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Owen J. Roberts shakes off slow start, overtakes Boyertown 2-1

BUCKTOWN >> In scope small and large, Owen J. Roberts boys soccer coach Eric Wentzel is concerned by slow starts.

His Wildcats have had to play their way out of them in the standings the past two seasons. They have had to play their way out of them in the early going this fall. And they had to play their way out of one Thursday night with Boyertown visiting Wildcat Stadium.

Solve one, solve the other.

After going down 1-0 and being thoroughly bossed by the Bears in the early going, Owen J. Roberts found its footing and increasingly took control for the next 70 minutes, making the most of two fortuitous goals in a 2-1 Pioneer Athletic Conference Liberty Division victory.

“We are so, so pumped,” senior captain Kyle Storti said. “We beat PV 4-3 (Wednesday) and we were excited after that. We knew coming into this game it was going to be an even harder game and it showed – they (Boyertown) are by far a title-contending team but all 11 of our players on the field showed heart, and that was so big.”

Owen J. Roberts’ Kyle Stori looks to play the ball up field as Boyertown’s Beckett Wenger and Dmitri Randjelovic pursue. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

While the Wildcats’ goals came on a goalkeeping error – freshman Ethan Williams scoring the tap-in – and Boyertown own goal, the performance was worthy of the win. It’s a result that lifts OJR (2-1-1 overall) to 2-0 and atop the PAC Liberty standings – a position it hasn’t taken up in recent years.

“These past two years we’ve started 1-6, 1-5. It’s so hard to come back from it. Yeah, we’ve done it a couple times, but why not just start off strong,” Storti said. “That’s what I’ve said to the team every single game – every single win is so important. There are so many good teams in this division now and we have to prove ourselves every single game.”

Owen J Roberts’ Ethan Gawlik split Boyertown defenders Ryan Foskey, left, and Dmitri Randjelovic. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Boyertown (2-1) took its first defeat after opening the season with an attention-grabbing overtime win over 2018 District 1-4A runner-up Abington prior to Wednesday’s lightning-shortened win over Methacton.

A brilliant start resulted in a free kick goal from Dmitri Randjelovic nine minutes in, but the Bears ultimately experienced the other side of the coin.

“We’re never as good as we think we are when we win and we’re never as bad as we think we are when we lose,” Boyertown coach Mark Chambers said. “They might have been a little high on themselves beating Abington … now we know we can be beat.

“So how are we going to respond? We’ll see.”

Boyertown dominated the first 10 minutes with Nick Willson, Landon Wenger and Beckett Wenger impressing with quick-passing combinations that had OJR on their heels. The Bears made the most of a foul on Beckett Wenger, who left the game due to injury, from 22 yards out. With Willson playing decoy, Randjelovic beat the wall and OJR keeper Zeb Smith to go up 1-0.

“We came in knowing that we hadn’t beaten these guys in a couple years so we came in with great energy,” Chambers said. “With the technical players we have, (we’re capable of) combination passing, connecting through the midfield and getting into the final third and creating chances.

“Our fitness levels need to improve to play at that pace. But we need to be better because we cannot play that way for 15 minutes and expect to win the game.”

Boyertown’s Jacob Groff controls the ball as Owen J. Roberts’ Ethan Gawlik pressures. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

Similar to a day before when going down to 1-0 to Perkiomen Valley, the Wildcats were ignited by going down, growing into the game.

“Once they scored that first goal, we were just anxious to get back out there,” said senior Gavin Zorn. “We’re a team that hates losing. At halftime, (Assistant) Coach (Joe) Youngblood came over and he told us that it’s about heart and how much you’re willing to dig deep, how long you’re willing to outlast your opponent.”

OJR was officially in business with 10 minutes to halftime when Zorn carried the ball beyond midfield and laid it off to junior Robbie Gambone, who struck a cross from the right side into the penalty area. The ball bounced right at the feet of Boyertown keeper Mason Kurtz (four saves) and spilled to the opposite side to the foot of wide-open freshman Ethan Williams, who had a tap in to the empty net.

OJR carried the momentum through the second half and took the lead for good with 32 to play. Zorn crossed from the right side on the counterattack, looking for forward Ethan Gawlik. Gawlik didn’t get his head on it, but he created enough pressure in his duel with Matt Esz that the header of the Bears defender ended up in the net.

“I’ve been doing that cross the past two years to Josh Fonder (now at Immaculata) and now I have another player to do it and it’s continuing to work, which is really good to see,” Zorn said.

OJR goalie Smith’s save on a low, well-placed free kick by the Bears’ Willson denied the best chance for the leveler with 26 to play.

Smith (six saves), holding midfielder Julian Funaro and the back four of Christian Davis, John Buckwalter, Garrett Bland and Austin Chambers and Smith finished strong, putting those pesky slow starts – no matter the scope – in the rearview mirror.

Boyertown’s Dmitri Randjelovic celebrates after his free kick goal in the first half against Owen J Roberts. (Austin Hertzog – MediaNews Group)

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