MECHANICSBURG >> The Upper Moreland boys soccer team had a lot to overcome in the PIAA-3A state semifinals Tuesday evening.
The District 1 champions were traveling two hours west to face District 3 winner Northern York. The Golden Bears were playing on grass for just the second time this season and the near-freezing temperatures didn’t make the surface any more forgiving.
In a game where Upper Moreland would’ve liked a few bounces to go their way, some significant whistles went against them.
The Golden Bears season came to an end with a 4-1 loss against the Polar Bears at North Side Elementary in Mechanicsburg.
Upper Moreland appeared to take a quick 1-0 lead in the second minute. A loose ball in front of the goal resulted in a scramble and the ball in the back of the net. After the Golden Bears celebrated and returned to their side of the field for play to restart, the officials ruled the Northern goalkeeper controlled the ball before the goal and the play was dead.
Five minutes later, the Golden Bears did get on the board. Mateo Infante sent a corner into the box and Logan Taylor skied above defenders to head the ball into the net for a 1-0 Upper Moreland lead.
“It’s a totally different game if we’re up 2-0,” Golden Bears coach Justin Allegra said. “We’re playing different, we’re playing a more defensive game. It means all the world. We scored 30 seconds into the game and you call it a goal and there’s no whistle being blown – then all of the sudden magic. It’s unfortunate. I really expressed getting the early lead, getting up on these guys because they’ve never been down by that much – 2-0 is pretty significant because we don’t usually give up goals. It’s tough.”
The one-goal advantage held for most of the first half. The Polar Bears earned a corner and Spencer Silverling scored to tie the game at one with 5:22 remaining until halftime. Upper Moreland’s defenders and bench looked to the officials for a call against Northern for restricting the keeper from making a play on the ball, but the call stood.
The game remained tied for the final five minutes of the first half and the first 17 minutes of the second. Some chaos in front of the Upper Moreland goal ended when Connor Swope scored, giving Northern a 2-1 lead with 22:42 left in the game. The Golden Bears looked for an offsides call against Swope, but the whistles were silent.
“The second (goal) the guy is laying in the net,” Allegra said. “If he’s laying in the net, he’s offsides. Two there, 2-0. That’s the game. That’s soccer. I can’t control the officials.”
“(Being ahead 2-0) would have been a huge momentum boost for us,” Upper Moreland captain Travis Slear said, “but I think what really hurt us was the missed call on their second goal. All four of our backs were just looking at the ref in disbelief because he was standing behind all of us. Props to (Northern), they were the better team today.”
The Polar Bears, who traveled 18 minutes for the semifinal matchup, added a pair of goals in the final 11:34 to give themselves some breathing room and secure a spot in Friday’s state championship game against District 7 champion Mars at 6:30 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium.
“We came out strong,” Slear said, “but (Northern) had a spell where they were just shoving everything down our throat. We just couldn’t contain them and let them get back in the game and we couldn’t contain them the rest of the way.”
“We pretty much ran out of gas at the end,” Allegra said.
The loss ends a season to remember for the Golden Bears. They finished the 2020 campaign with a 10-3 record, District 1 championship and state semifinal appearance.
“This is the first time we’ve been to the final four,” Allegra said. “This is the farthest this team has been. Our first goal was districts – we took that. Our next goal was to get into the tournament and get far and get into the final four. This is a great group of guys. Unfortunately we ran out of steam.”
“It’s still a great season,” Slear said. “I’m proud of everybody on the team. I think this is the farthest or the second-farthest we’ve ever gotten at the school. It’s a big accomplishment.”