Holy Ghost Prep tops Pottsgrove for fourth straight District 1-AA title

AMBLER — The gate allowing passage from District 1 to the PIAA playoffs in Class AA boys soccer is metaphorically guarded by a dragon.

Literally, it is a Firebird.

The Pottsgrove boys soccer team dreamed this could be the year it could get beyond the gatekeeper, also known as perennial powerhouse Holy Ghost Prep.

The Firebirds were defending more than district passage. They are defending the PIAA-AA championship and they aren’t giving it up easily.

Jake Weimert broke the seal on the game before he and Joseph Braun scored within one minute of each other for a three-goal first-half lead to send Holy Ghost Prep to a 3-1 victory over Pottsgrove to capture a fourth straight District 1-AA title Thursday night at Wissahickon High School.

Kevin Rodriguez pulled one back from the Falcons with 3:17 remaining, the team finally getting the breakthrough it chased all second half.

With a senior-filled lineup that was as deep as it has been since 2008 when Pottsgrove was district champion and PIAA runner-up, Rodriguez and his teammates believed this year would turn out differently than it did in 2012 when the same teams met in the final.

“Every day we came into practice and worked hard and had good players off the bench,’ Rodriguez said. “We thought this was our year. We were filled with seniors and players that have played together for a long time, we all have the chemistry there.

“We thought this might be it, but…’

The Firebirds hoped it was their year again, but heavy losses to graduation didn’t make it a certainty.

“(Winning the district title) coming off of last year is big,’ Weimert said. “Losing players like Matt Crawford, Tim French and other guys, some of us had to step up and play in their positions, which was a big role to take. I think a lot of our players are stepping up and doing the job that the players last year did and are really making a difference. It’s really coming through in the playoffs.’

It wasn’t a given in a largely-even game throughout much of the first half. Pottsgrove created the game’s best early chance, Rodriguez playing a through ball to Rammy Abbas, who sent a low cross from the right end line toward Noah Lear, who forced outstanding HGP keeper Matthew Lingerman (9 saves) into a diving stop.

But Pottsgrove’s play was undone when Holy Ghost standout forward Michael Kirby, who assisted on Braun’s goal, sent a speculative cross toward the edge of the penalty area in the 17th minute.

“He was just putting it into space and I was able to toe-poke it toward the goalie and he fumbled it,’ Weimert said. “I knew I just had to stay calm and focused because I knew we weren’t going to get another chance like this early in the game. I had to take advantage of it.’

Weimert believed the first goal would be a pivotal one.

“Coming into it I knew we were even teams,’ he said. “The team that scored first I thought would come out on top.’

It put Pottsgrove into a tough spot, but not an insurmountable one.

“The chances definitely were there,’ Rodriguez said. “We played great to start off but then we made some stupid mistakes. When we go down a goal our record just isn’t good. We just have trouble getting another goal.’

The game truly turned when a free kick was played toward Braun and headed to an unmarked Weimert, who fired a left-footed shot to the far post for a 2-0 lead. Less than a minute later Braun was on the scoresheet and Holy Ghost Prep was on its way.

The Falcons tried to get back into the game in the second half and ultimately had a 10-5 advantage in shots on goal, including six in the second half, but the Holy Ghost defense and holding midfielders — Hayden Pratt, Theodore Kawoczka, Michael Attryde, Luke Duris, Connor Rankin, Colin O’Hara — were unforgiving.

Grove only got its goal when Germann Larmond forced his way through the back line and Lingerman couldn’t get a clean handle on the ball. It skirted to the right side to Rodriguez who buried it. But there was little road back with just over three minutes remaining.

With only one team qualifying in AA from District 1, it was a new beginning for Holy Ghost Prep and an ending for Pottsgrove, which felt like it was just beginning its second season after defeating Lower Moreland (3-0) in the semifinals after a two-week break following the PAC-10 playoffs.

Rodriguez, along with fellow senior starters Scott Exley, Jon Maher, Kyle Reed, Jared Mayes and David Macartney as well as the injured Sean O’Brien and Travis Spotts, were among Pottsgrove’s most successful classes.

“I think we did a lot of good things. We were the second-best team to ever go through Pottsgrove. That’s something,’ Rodriguez said.

“Hopefully these seniors now move on to and can play in college and hopefully prove something there. We can do it in college. We have what it takes.’

And for the likes of sophomore Tyler Rolando, who performed very well man-marking Holy Ghost’s Kirby, reaching the district final is something the underclassmen hope to make a habit.

“At first I was scared to play up with (the upperclassmen) but now I got used to it and they really helped me out through the season,’ Rolando said. “It was a good experience. I’ll take it for next year.’


Holy Ghost Prep will meet District 11 champion Southern Lehigh on Tuesday in the first round of the PIAA Tournament. … Pottsgrove keeper Liam Abdalla made two saves. … The Falcons finished with nine men after Exley and Abbas received red cards following an shoving match in the final minute. … Pottsgrove was led by assistant Jeff Erb after head coach Jay Witkowski received two yellow cards in the semifinal win.

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