RED HILL >> It had been a while since the Archbishop Wood boys soccer team found itself chasing a score.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, trying to pull level with Northwestern Lehigh on Tuesday night also brought back some bad habits from earlier in the season. Short-handed, Wood was never quite able to catch up to the undefeated Tigers in their PIAA 3A semifinal at Upper Perkiomen High School.
The final result, a 3-1 Northwestern Lehigh win, brought an end to what was still a tremendous season for Wood.
“We were short personnel, guys were playing in different positions and that’s a very good team,” Wood coach Hugh Kelly said. “They were harder than we were. They finished some chances, we didn’t. They had a couple chances late and didn’t put the ball in the net.”
For a team that would be starting a lot of underclassmen and asking many players to take on bigger roles, the Vikings started off 6-0. Then, a midseason rough patch hit before Wood rallied to finish strong and snare the No. 3 seed in the PCL playoffs. Wood would lose to Roman Catholic in the league semifinals but rebounded to win its second straight District 12-3A title.
After losing in the first round of states last year, Wood re-discovered that late season surge and played two strong games to reach the state’s final four. Given that the team wasn’t sure who was going to feature in what positions or how long it would take to put things together, Wood’s accomplishments shouldn’t be viewed lightly.
“Our goals were to get into the Catholic League playoffs and see how far we could get,” Kelly said. “We kept plugging along game by game by game. You get to a certain level and the realization becomes we can actually win this whole thing.”
Throughout the season, Wood could rely on either its speed or its physicality to give it an edge over most of its opposition. Without a true goal scoring forward, the Vikings relied on an industrious, workman-like approach offensively and a fierce back line.
Tuesday, they just ran into a team that could match them in speed and physicality and that was just a little more potent offensively. The Tigers took a lead in the 18th minute when speedster forward Noah Myers latched onto a through ball and took a well-measured shot to the far post.
Wood has a couple players dealing with illness or injury and was also without midfielder Bob Hennessey after he was given two yellow cards in the quarterfinal round. With the starting 11 shifted and a thin bench, the Vikings weren’t able to find the same style of play they had been successful with the last month.
“I tried talking to them at halftime and told them not to hit the home run balls,” Kelly said. “I said let’s be deliberate and keep working with what has been successful for us. You get caught up in the heat of the game or the moment and sometimes you revert back to bad habits and not processing what I’m asking them to do.”
Northwestern Lehigh was a very direct team. It’s back line played tough and when it won the
“Just being short on the bench with guys we’ve utilized all year not being available to you, it’s difficult,” Kelly said. “I brought some JV guys, but I can’t ask those guys to go in and give us the same minutes.”
Wood trailed just 1-0 at the break but couldn’t seem to find anything in its attack through the opening stages of the second half. Myers doubled his team’s advantage with 19 minutes left after he took Zach Creighton’s through ball and chipped Wood keeper Connor Ford.
Ford did make four saves, but he couldn’t do anything to halt the Tiger’s third goal. Samuel Seyfried was fouled and taken down in the box, earning Northwestern Lehigh a penalty kick that Seyfried stepped up and buried with 11:52 to play.
The Vikings picked up a couple yellow cards as frustration took over, but they calmed enough to get a goal back when Hugh Lynch tried a shot from deep. His effort hit off the Tigers’ keeper’s hands and in, but Wood wasn’t able to convert another promising ball in front shortly after.
Wood brings back plenty, including its top scoring tandem of Cody Taylor and Christian Petro, Ford in goal and a number of other players who grew into their own this season. If the Vikings can build off this season’s identity and continue to push themselves outside the PCL, they have an opportunity to be back in the hunt for the program’s first state title next season.
“I’m not going to get in a handful of transfers or have that proverbial great goal-scorer come to us, so we’ll play the hand dealt to us and make the most of it,” Kelly said. “We try and play. I think our nonleague schedule plays immensely, all the teams we play are either in districts or through to states so that has a lot to do with it.”
NORTHWESTER LEHIGH 3, ARCHBISHOP WOOD 1
NORTHWESTERN LEHIGH 1 2 – 3
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 0 1 – 1
Goals: NWL – Noah Myers 2, Samuel Seyfried; AW – Hugh Lynch.