TOWAMENCIN >> Carter Houlihan has an easy pick for the hardest worker on his team.
Mike Chaffee might say a ton, but the way he plays soccer speaks plenty about him. The senior forward rarely stops running and his effort has been a huge boost for the North Penn boys’ soccer team this fall as he and Houlihan have formed a pretty solid pairing at the top of the Knights’ formation.
Saturday, Chaffee’s work ethic rewarded him with a huge performance as North Penn topped visiting Archbishop Wood 5-2.
“I just came ready to play,” Chaffee, who scored two goals and assisted the other three, said. “I love working hard, I think work ethic is contagious and it rubs off on teammates. Once we opened the floodgates with an early goal, we honed in on that.
Chaffee, who also plays hoops at North Penn, is a three-year varsity player but is in his first year starting full-time. With the departure of Luke McMahon and Aidan Jerome among others, the Knights needed a wingman for Houlihan as they entered the season.
“We’re just growing together,” Chaffee said. “We love being successful together and seeing our team successful.”
The speedy senior was the right man for the job as he and Houlihan have a similar ambition on the soccer field. Saturday, they only needed a couple minutes to poach a goal off the defending PCL champion Vikings. Chaffee gained the right flank, cut in and laid a ball across the box to the far post for an easy tap-in from Houlihan.
“He’s got the best work ethic in the league,” Houlihan said. “You don’t ever see him stop running. If we lose the ball, he tracks back 30 yards to defend, so his work ethic puts me in a great position to put points on the board with a goal or an assist. What I get on the scoresheet, he’s doing all the dirty work for it.”
Wood coach Hugh Kelly tried to warn his players pregame they couldn’t afford to try and stab defensively or get stretched out between the 18-yard boxes. Of course, North Penn (15-1-0, 9-1-0 SOL Continental) wants teams to do that and they punished the Vikings for their mistakes early.
Chaffee and Houlihan flipped roles on North Penn’s second goal with Houlihan attacking off the flank, drawing in three defenders and passing to Chaffee for a one-time flick into the net. Chaffee helped make it 3-0 when he found Houlihan for a run toward goal then hit a solid cross to a wide-open Josh Jones for a header and 4-0 edge before halftime.
“We talked about it before the game, an early goal puts the other team in a bad mood,” Houlihan said. “Coming out on a Saturday morning and getting scored on in the first 10 minutes, you never want to be on the other end of that so putting an early goal in, I think they were a little flat after that and we just kept going at them.”
“We like the matchups with teams that don’t know how to play us very well because they don’t see us a lot,” Chaffee, who scored two goals and assisted the other three, said. “We love counter-attacking, love using our pace and teams that don’t see us a lot don’t know about it so we looked to capitalize.”
Wood, which graduated a bulk of its starting lineup from last year’s PCL title and PIAA 3A semifinal side, still has a quality group. Senior co-captain Ryan Morgan helped the Vikings get on the board in the first half when his shot glanced off a North Penn defender for an own goal and felt the match was good for his team.
Wood finished No. 5 in the PCL standings and will visit No. 4 LC on Friday for the quarterfinals. The teams played to a draw in their regular season meeting, so it’s fair to assume another tight game is on deck.
“We had a little bit of a break over the last week, so we needed a good opponent to get us ready for the playoffs,” Morgan, a midfielder, said. “(Lansdale Catholic) is a really good team and has been locking down opponents so this was the perfect team to play against to get us ready. We have to take this, have a good week of practice and be ready for LC.”
The Vikings were able to settle down and played well at times. They were the aggressor early in the second half and cut the lead to 4-2 when Braedon Kehan deflected in an attempted clearance off a chaotic scramble in the box off a free kick.
Playing North Penn was meant to benefit Wood and the Vikings felt like they got better from the meeting.
“They’re a powerhouse in their league, I like their style of soccer and they play it well and for us, wins and losses aren’t important as we get ready for the playoffs so that’s why we do it this late in the year,” Kelly said. “People probably say I’m crazy but it prepares us down the stretch. They’re all going to be tough games like this down the stretch.”
Wood’s had a tough go of it with injuries, especially in the back, so Kelly wanted the guys filling in to see what it takes to compete against a top opponent.
“Going into the season, I think a lot of people thought we were in a rebuilding process but I never felt that way,” Morgan said. “I think we proved to a lot of people and to ourselves what we could do when we hung in there with the top dogs so I’m excited to see what’s to come and what we can do.
“I told these guys from the start we still have a shot to be a good team, nobody expected us to be PCL champions last year so let’s carry that into this year.”
North Penn’s win over CB West gave the Knights a fourth straight SOL Continental title but that was only the first box on their list of goals for the season. Currently the top seed in the District 1-4A standings, the Knights are hoping to keep their spot and finish strong with games against a tough CB South side and a really good Pennridge team coming up this week.
Chaffee finished the match off with probably the best goal of the day. Ryan Stewart played a terrific cross into the box where Chaffee, at a full sprint, ran in and headed it home to get everyone on the North Penn bench up and yelling.
“It’s a great feeling,” Chaffee said. “It’s just the start though. We’re not done and it’s just the first step to what we’re looking to do this season.”
NORTH PENN 5, ARCHBISHOP WOOD 2
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 1 1 — 2
NORTH PENN 4 1 — 5
Goals: NP – Carter Houlihan (Mike Chaffee), Chaffee (Houlihan), Houlihan (Chaffee), Josh Jones (Chaffee), Chaffee (Ryan Stewart); AW – Braedon Kehan
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