ABINGTON >> Carlos Erazo doesn’t mind if people are shocked.
He prefers it, really. At daybreak on Wednesday, Oct. 28, the Pennridge senior and the rest of his teammates weren’t in the District 1-4A playoff bracket. Thanks to Erazo, the Rams are now hosting a second round District 1-4A playoff game Thursday.
The senior midfielder’s tally with 47 seconds left in regulation lifted the No. 12 Rams past No. 5 Abington 1-0 in a well-played and high quality first match Monday night.
“It’s crazy, but I love the feeling though,” Erazo said. “I think it shocks everybody and I want everybody to be shocked. I want everybody to think we shouldn’t be here, we didn’t deserve to be here and we’re not good enough to be there, and I want them to keep thinking that.”
BOYS SOCCER FINAL: (12) Pennridge 1, (5) Abington 0
Carlos Erazo’s final minute tally sends Rams into second round
Pennridge will host (13) Upper Dublin on Thursday pic.twitter.com/LoxZz28PE0
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) November 3, 2020
Whoever won Monday’s game would host a second round home game thanks to No. 13 Upper Dublin’s win over No. 4 Downingtown West, but the Rams knew they were going to have to be at their absolute best to beat the SOL Liberty champion Ghosts. Not only was Abington’s grass field an advantage for the hosts, they have a big, strong and fast team that provides its own kind of challenges to defend.
But Pennridge, which won its way into the bracket last Wednesday, figured out early on it could play on an unfamiliar surface. Rams coach Pete Valimont said it was his team’s first game on grass since last fall but once the midfield started connecting passes and the defenders were able to step in and win some early challenges, it was no longer an issue.
“That was a great feeling,” Rams fullback and co-captain Dalton Guthrie said. “I felt like in the beginning we realized we could handle them if we played together. It started with our movement through the back and not playing around with it. We’re on rough grass, everybody was slipping and if we made a mistake, we knew it could go wrong really fast.”
Abington felt like it had the better opportunities in the first half but had nothing to show for them by the break. Forward Liam Hartman nearly scored 10 minutes in, having his first shot parried by keeper CJ Dimmick and a whip-around following attempted was headed away from the goal line by Rams defender Colin Monahan.
Dimmick would save two more shots in the half and Abington, after a Gavin O’Neill free kick, was left frustrated when a follow-up by co-captain Bryce Lexow sailed over the bar. In a tight playoff game, every chance matters and they didn’t go Abington’s way on Monday.
“We won a lot of games the same way they beat us tonight, by scoring in the last minute,” Abington coach Randy Garber said. “I thought in the first half, we had some chances and some opportunities and we didn’t finish. If we had finished one of them, maybe it would have been different but in the second half, they just took the game over.”
Abington likes to test defenses by playing the ball long and letting its forwards challenge backs, which is effective with the players the Ghosts have. Pennridge was able to counter that with possession on Monday, effectively making the Ghosts chase them and by extension, the game, around the field.
Erazo cited the Rams’ rather vocal bench as something that helped keep him and the rest of the field players energized. With the back line holding its own against Abington’s attackers, the midfield wanted to put its stamp on the match after halftime.
The senior midfield also chalked up a couple things he felt were in his side’s favor.
“One, our competitiveness. Two, it was us knowing our fundamental basic shaping and keeping our body intact,” Erazo. “That leads to number three, we’ve been playing together for 10-plus years, so we’re like brothers to each other and we have a great coaching staff so it all came together at the end of the day.”
Valimont said after his team won Wednesday to make the field, he and his coaches had prepared for a different opponent before the brackets changed on Thursday. Once it was settled on the Ghosts, the Rams knew they were likely in for a tight game.
Luckily, and perhaps Erazo should add this to his list, Pennridge is used to those.
“It’s our eighth win and of those, I think six came in the last five minutes and three with under a minute left, you can’t make this stuff up,” Valimont said. “To sit through and witness it, it’s incredible.
“We have incredible respect for their coaching staff, Garber’s been here forever and they are talented at every single level. This is not a joke of a game, for Pennridge to come here and beat Abington, it’s a huge statement for our team and our program. It came down to a set piece that bounced our way and we finished it. It’s fortunate for us, but I know it easily could have gone their way.”
The loss ends the season for Abington and closes the chapter on a senior class that was part of two SOL titles, a district final appearance and a state playoff win. Seven of those seniors starter on Monday and left a considerable standard for next year’s team to work toward.
“For some of them, this is just a stepping stone for them,” Garber said. “Under the circumstances with the virus, we were fortunate enough to be able to play. They know the whole season could have been cancelled but they were able to win a league title. We’re going to miss them but we also have some young players who we think are going to do well for themselves.”
Valimont felt it was fitting that Erazo scored the winner after the fluid midfielder spent most of the game getting the ball forward and setting up his teammates to do productive things with it. For his part, Erazo wasn’t trying to do too much and just fell back on the years of experience with his teammates.
A foul gave the Rams a free kick about 25 yards out on the right. Connor Gabel rolled the ball to captain Ben Scary, who fired through a crowd of Ghosts and somehow, the ball found Erazo’s foot.
“You have to predict where the ball can go, but also remember what part of the goal he’s played it to,” Erazo said. “Normally, it comes off the goal keeper, so I went to that space, got there sooner than other players did and got that shot off.”
Pennridge will host the No. 13 Cardinals on Thursday as part of a doubleheader not many people would have seen coming less than a week ago.
“Our team is very supportive and they want to see our seniors succeed,” Guthrie said. “We won’t give up until the game is over.
“I’ve played varsity three years and only had a home playoff game once. It’s such a great feeling and I can’t wait.”
Pennridge 1, Abington 0
PENNRIDGE 0 1 – 1
ABINGTON 0 0 – 0
Goals: P – Carlos Erazo (Ben Scary). Saves: P – CJ Dimmick 5, A – Jalen Harris 5