UPPER MORELAND >> It was renowned for stingy defensive play and solid goalkeeping this fall.
Watching Upper Moreland perform against both aspects was the ultimate blow for Pottsgrove Thursday evening.
In a hard-fought District 1 Class 3A championship game that went just under 100 minutes, the Falcons saw an otherwise big 2020 season brought to an abrupt halt by the Golden Bears. The 3-2 loss left Pottsgrove finished for the year, the pandemic-impacted season allowing just the district champ to qualify for the PIAA playoffs.
Upper Moreland’s 2OT winner. pic.twitter.com/G4vLKVJp1f
— Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue) November 6, 2020
Mateo Infante’s conversion with 11:25 left in the second overtime frame dashed Pottsgrove’s hopes for a district title … hopes the Falcons (8-5-1) kept alive by twice working back from one-goal deficits. The locals forced a 2-2 regulation-time tie with Jeremy Thompson scoring at the 10:46 mark in the second half, then survived the Bears (9-2) taking a shot as time ran out in the first OT, the kick clearing the goal cage.
“We’re a very defensive team,” Pottsgrove head coach Jay Witkowski said. “We’ve given up three goals in a game only twice before this, and we gave up just 11 goals in 13 games going in.”
UM undid all those distinctions, and no goals in the Falcons’ last four games, with a direct-play offense getting two regulation-time goals from Max Gerlach. The Bear sophomore got his team on the scoreboard at 28:4, angling a shot from the right of the cage into the far left corner, then put the hosts back on top with a similar play at 24:35 of the second.
“This is the most exciting game we’ve had this season,” UM head coach Justin Allegra said. “We’ve been the better team all year. Our losses have been to a 4A team.”
The Bears were dominant in shots on goal (13-6) while having a narrow edge over the Falcons in corners (4-3). Infante, Alex Emmell and Joshua Henderson were all credited with assists, in that order of goals.
“They (UM) got loose and figured out a way,” Witkowski said.
Pottsgrove’s first equalizer came with 6:47 left in the first half, Shane Gleason converting a deflected ball. Its second tie-forcer was Thompson connecting off a Landon Shivak corner kick.
“The guys fought tonight,” Witkowski said. “We had two starters (Mike Troutman, Kevin Michuki) out, but we fought back from 1-0 and 2-1 deficits.
“I wish we could have gotten a different result.”
The Falcons had two drives stopped in the opening minutes of the second half. They were also unable to cash in on a man-advantage situation in the final six minutes of the first OT, Infante receiving a yellow card for contact with Luke Kaiser.
Kaiser, one of the PAC’s top goalkeepers, had three saves on the night. After the game, the senior was seen consoling teammates saddened by the loss.
“It was about being together this season,” he said. “And it shows.
“The guys were playing for the person next to them. It they played for each other, we’d have a good season. I’m proud of what we put together.”
The second-seeded Falcons sported a senior-heavy roster — 10 of their 16 varsity performers are 12th-graders — and got to the district’s title game off a 1-0 overtime victory over Holy Ghost Prep in the semifinal round. During the regular season, they tied Spring-Ford for second place in a Pioneer Athletic Conference whose seven-school configuration was comprised by a majority of Liberty Division teams; they and Upper Perkiomen were the only representatives of the smaller-school Frontier Division.
“I’m really proud of the team,” Witkowski said. “We had a lot of seniors who provided leadership and character. We beat Spring-Ford, Boyertown and other good teams.”
For first-seeded Upper Moreland, the district-title finish was a decided step up from a 2018 season that saw it seeded seventh in districts and out of the post-season in 2019.
“Our kids bought into our system,” Allegra said. “We have a broad range of talent, and we just cruised along.”
NOTES >> Upper Moreland’s goalkeeper, sophomore Aaron Snyder, had four saves on the night. … Upper Moreland will draw a bye in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs, then open in the quarterfinals Nov. 14 against the winner of the first-round game between the District 11 and 12 winner.