BUCKTOWN >> For the past decade or so, the Perkiomen Valley boys’ soccer team has been on the wrong end of some of the brightest moments in archrival Spring-Ford’s program history.
Thursday night, PV senior midfielder Brian Love turned the tables on the Rams.
Love headed in a throw-in from AJ Hansen with about 23 minutes remaining to snap a 1-1 deadlock and send the Vikings to their first PAC championship in 17 years, topping Spring-Ford, 2-1, in the championship game at Owen J. Roberts.
For Perk Valley, it’s the first title of the Final Four era and the program’s first overall since 2001 — the year most of their current players were born.
“Unreal,” said AJ Hansen. “This is the year. This was always the year.”
Indeed, recent — and even relatively distant — history has not been kind to the Vikings in this rivalry. The Rams’ two PAC soccer championships (2010 and 2013) came at the expense of PV. Even last year, when Perk Valley became the first Class 4A PAC team to qualify for the PIAA tournament, they did so only after recovering from a heartbreaking loss to Spring-Ford in the PAC semifinals (0-0; 4-3 in penalty kicks).
But longtime coach Bob McCabe had a plan. About three years ago, McCabe formulated a plan that would have the Vikings in contention by 2017 and 2018. Last year’s dreams were thwarted by Spring-Ford in the PAC semifinals, but did end with the state tournament appearance.
But the plan’s culmination wasn’t complete without beating the Rams.
“This is one monkey I definitely wanted off of my back,” acknowledged McCabe, who claimed his third PAC title in 23 years at the helm of the Vikings, and the first since 2001.
This one had some extra meaning for the veteran coach, who saw his son Matt, a midfielder for the Vikings, celebrate the school’s first title in 17 years.
“It’s not easy being the coach’s son,” acknowledged the elder McCabe, “and it’s not always easy for us, keeping a personal relationship separate (from soccer).
“But it sure is special. I love all these guys, but Matt being my son, it adds something special tonight.”
“For 17 years, I’ve dreamt of this,” added Matt McCabe. “He’s dreamt of this — and now it’s finally here. It’s the greatest feeling you could ask for.”
Throughout the season, observers could sense the gap was narrowing between the Vikings and their long-time tormentors as they fought the Rams to a 1-1 tie on Sept. 24 and to a scoreless draw just last week. But Thursday night’s contest would require a decisive result.
The earlygoing surprised no one, as Spring-Ford looked to get up and down the fast turf at Wildcat Stadium, while Perk Valley desired a more methodical game of prolonged possession. Both sides had spurts of success, Spring-Ford’s more threatening in nature but nothing that seriously tested PV keeper Josh Moyer.
But about 27 minutes in, the Vikings drew first blood off a far side run by senior forward Max Chamorro. After SF’s Ray Fortebuono stopped PV’s initial effort, Chamorro made no mistake on a short rebound to put the Vikings in front. Given the Vikings’ strength in playing with a lead, McCabe admitted to feeling “pretty good” after Chamorro’s tally.
But surprisingly, it was only two minutes until the Rams’ Brett Gulati equalized on a play that looked vaguely similar to the Vikings’ earlier effort — a quick-hitting, seemingly harmless play that turned into a game-changer. With 10 minutes to play until half, the contest was equal, and Spring-Ford had neutralized PV’s biggest advantage: scoring first.
“At the time, that was big,” said Rams head coach Brent Kissel. “It got us right back into the contest.
“I don’t think we were outplayed. They beat us in certain situations and I give them credit.”
One thing Kissel was concerned about was defending Perk Valley on set pieces, and his concerns were validated with about 16 minutes gone in the second half. That’s when senior Hansen took a throw from about five yards short of the end line, and put an impressive throw directly into the slot, where Brian Love waited at the near post.
“I was just inside the six (yard line),” said Love. “Bodies flying, just got up the highest… I was lucky to get my head to it.
“When I turned around, everyone was screaming.”
“He told me before the game,” said Hansen, pointing at Love, “He said, ‘This is coming down to a throw!’”
Spring-Ford had its chances in the latter stages of the game, but faced an uphill climb against a Vikings defense that seemingly lives to break up plays and make life difficult for offensive-minded opponents. Junior keeper Moyer (four saves) was equal to the task each time, including two challenges in the closing moments.
With the curse lifted, the sky’s the limit for the 11-1-6 Vikings, who will move into an opening-round District 1 game in Class 4A.
“It’s our first win against Spring-Ford in high school,” added Chamorro. “The best we’ve been able to do before tonight was tie them.”
In the end, it’s Perkiomen Valley’s first boys’ soccer title in the Final Four era and first in the lifetimes of several Viking players. For Coach McCabe, it’s validation and credibility for his defensive system, which emphasizes results over excitement, assignments over free-wheeling playmaking.
“After Spring-Ford got that equalizer, we were a little out of sorts,” he admitted. “But we’ve been taking advantage of opportunities all year. And when we got the lead back, again, I felt more comfortable. These guys are resilient, the way they play the game. They kept their heads and persevered.”
Meanwhile, at a record of 15-2-3, Spring-Ford is seeded second in District 1 Class 4A, and can look forward to a first-round bye before embarking on its next shot at an elusive championship trophy.
“My team is going to battle back,” said Kissel. “Lots of soccer to play this season, and we’ve got plenty of goals left to reach.”