BUCKTOWN — Things haven’t always come easily for the Boyertown boys soccer team.
One wouldn’t know that if they watched the first 15 minutes of its Pioneer Athletic Conference semifinal against Pottsgrove Tuesday night.
The Bears caught fire early with goals from Noah Kean and a penalty kick from Danny Yudt before Kean netted his second goal before hanging on for a 3-2 victory at Owen J. Roberts’ Henry J. Bernat Field to advance to the PAC-10 championship game.
Pottsgrove (13-5) rallied from a 3-0 deficit with Rammy Abbas’ headed goal just before halftime and Kevin Rodriguez’s score in traffic with 22:04 left to play, but the comeback came up short in a familiar fate to so many Falcon teams before them that have been unable to get beyond the semifinals.
For the Bear seniors, including Kean and defender Christian Smith — who were ‘ in case of emergency’ players, as Kean put it, when the Bears won the PAC-10 title in 2012, a return to the league’s showcase game is a chance to put their class’s stamp on the program’s history.
“We know it’s our last year and we just want to really work hard and work as a team,’ Smith said. “Last year we had some intrasquad issues and this year we wanted to stick together and work hard through everything.’
Boyertown (15-4) brought that work against the Frontier Division champion Pottsgrove, which was plagued by a recurring theme this season of lackadaisical starts. The Bears, under longtime coach Scott Didyoung, made that so by using their pace and direct play with long balls over the top — aided by going with the wind in the first half and the booming foot of goalkeeper Tim Lawlor — to be a constant threat in the first half.
“We needed to get those balls over the top,’ said Yudt, who converted his penalty kick after being fouled just inside the 18 by Pottsgrove keeper Liam Abdalla and was credited with an assist on Kean’s opening score. “We knew their defenders are good but if we can get it over their head we’re going to have so many chances with our pace up top.’
The Bears were determined to erase the memory of the 2-1 overtime defeat that suffered to Pottsgrove in the regular season.
“Taking that earlier loss in the season really gave us the motivation to get the win in the semifinal and take us into the final,’ Kean said. “Coming here, getting a PK and getting the other two goals and holding them off for the second half just felt great.’
Figuring out the matchups for the semifinals wasn’t easy in and of itself after Boyertown and fellow finalist Owen J. Roberts — a 3-0 winner over Phoenixville in the other semifinal — finished with equal 10-3 league records. The tiebreaker (which came down to the Liberty Division’s top two teams’ results against third-place finisher Perkiomen Valley) went in favor of OJR but the Bears didn’t allow that to matter.
“We were just going with the mentality of whoever we play, we’re going to go out and work hard and get the ‘ W.’ Just work hard against whoever we play,’ said Smith, who manned the Bears defense along with fellow seniors Matthew Hudson, Kyle Lee and Andrew Beaver.
With an experienced and successful lineup at his disposal, Pottsgrove coach Jay Witkowski believed this was the Falcons’ year.
“I felt this year was different,’ Witkowski said. “I thought we were poised. We were deep, I brought guys off the bench; we weren’t tired. Each year is different. Last year we got swept by their division and this year we were 3-2 and beat all three playoff teams. I don’t think (past semifinal misses) were in their heads.’
Despite having only one save, Lawlor impressed with his command on his box, especially on Pottsgrove’s long throw-ins from Travis Spotts, which led to Abbas’ goal.
The final margin didn’t come easily as Pottsgrove, which is in line for the No. 2 seed in the District 1-AA playoffs, dominated the second half. It didn’t come easily, but the win still came for Boyertown thanks to making the most of their early opportunities.
“They forced some of our breakdowns and we didn’t respond,’ Witkowski said. “Their guy (Kean) is big, he’s strong and he knocked us off the ball a little bit.
“We allowed them to happen and they took advantage of the opportunities and they finished well.’