HERSHEY >> Fleetwood’s return to mountaintop was a long time coming.
A traditional small-school soccer power rich in history, the Tigers played for six state titles between 1978 and 2000, winning two outright and sharing a third — in their last appearance, 18 years ago against Quaker Valley, when four overtimes couldn’t settle the issue during an era without penalty shootouts.
Since then, nothing. Until Saturday. Once there, though, in the PIAA 2A final, the Tigers made it all the way back.
When Aiden Negron one-timed an entry pass from Haydyn Zagorksi and roofed it to upper right-hand corner midway into the first overtime against Deer Lakes, it delivered the first state title to Fleetwood since Hersheypark Stadium sported grass 18 autumns ago.
It is Fleetwood’s first outright crown since the 1980 Tigers clipped Radnor for top honors during the one-classification days.
Negron sent a ball at 89:46 — a potluck offering into the box from the pacey Zagorski — off his right foot from about 12 yards out to cleanly beat Deer Lakes goalie Jesse Greyshock high and to the corner of the frame for a 1-0 final verdict and with it, the first gold add to the school’s trophy case since Saturday’s seniors were infants, if they were around at all.
The best part? The Tigers don’t have to share this one.
“Haydyn ran around three or four defenders,” an emotional Negron said, “and I just came in from behind and poked it in. It was just a reaction. I tried to put my foot out and win this game. I’m really just speechless and I don’t know what to say right now.”
Fleetwood’s journey back, as the second seed coming out of District 3, was one of determination and resulting dominance. The Tigers won their three state games by a combined 14-3 margin, including a 6-2 thrashing of Midd-West in the semifinal. The vaunted wing attack, paced by Zagorski on the right side, was in high gear.
But after some early promise in Saturday’s final against the Lancers, the wing attack crossing pressure fizzled a bit. Fleetwood could not find that final connection to trouble or beat Greyshock. So despite Fleetwood’s superior movement, the WPIAL’s third-place seed was able to fend off the challenges.
“They were really stingy in the back and they were dedicated,” veteran Fleetwood head coach Keith Schlegel said of Deer Lake’s back line. “It was one of those things where we just had to keep on going. The first part of the second half turned into more of a direct kick, direct kick for them and we couldn’t get any rhythm going for a good portion of it. … We don’t want to be in that. We want more flow.”
Schlegel also broke through, in a way, with Saturday’s result.
“I’m Fleetwood through and through,” he said. “I bleed it and I was part of it as a player and now as the coach, I’m humbled.”
Fleetwood was hampered by the injury loss of senior center mid star Abraham Jalloh, who tweaked an ankle in the state semifinal. Jalloh tried gamely to give it a go, but had to retire to sidelines for good early in the second half. Without Jalloh and his distribution skills in the lineup, those snarling Tigers were at times reduced to hopeful wimperers.
“I tried to pull through but it did not not work out,” Jalloh said. “I’m glad that my teammates pulled through. I’m grateful to my teammates to pull through and to fight and to give it everything they had today. I was a little emotional that I couldn’t stay in there and help and fight with my teammates and for my community, but I’m glad they won this for us. I’m super happy.”
However, at the other end, Deer Lakes could not string together any sustained attack. The Lancers looked most threatening off set pieces, with specialist Nick Caro delivering a heavy and accurate ball each time.
After having lunch handed to them during the first 40 minutes but escaping it without conceding, Deer Lakes looked the more dangerous side down the stretch, compiling six corners after the break to Fleetwood’s two.
But the Tigers were able to keep things relatively clean in front of goalie Sam Schappell to quell the threats and move the contest to overtime.
PIAA 2A championship
at Hersheypark Stadium
Fleetwood 1, Deer Lakes 0 (OT)
F – Aiden Negron (Haydyn Zagorski), 89:46
Shots on target
F 6, DL 5
F 6, DL 7
F (Sam Schappell) 5, DL (Jesse Greyshock) 5