After building early 2-1 lead, Susquehannock allows three straight goals in loss to South Park in PIAA Class AA boys' soccer semifinals.
ALTOONA - The game started about as perfectly as a state semifinal could for the Susquehannock boys' soccer team.
It just didn't end the same way.
After building a 2-1 lead after the opening 13 minutes, the Warriors wouldn't score again, conceding the next three goals of the match to South Park, losing 4-2 in a PIAA Class AA state semifinal.
"The last 20 minutes, especially, I'm real proud of how hard the guys played and gave it a shot," Susquehannock coach Brett Maxwell said. "Down two goals late, it's easy to lay down, but they really fought hard for the last 20 minutes of the game. We came out strong in the beginning. We had some periods where we really controlled the play, but we also had some lapses and they took advantage of those opportunities."
Luke Thomas got the scoring started for the Warriors in the sixth minute on a nice header to open up a 1-0 lead. That goal was instantly answered by the Eagles, after right midfielder Christian Payne played a great through-ball into Zak Schwarzel to level the score in the 11th minute. The Warriors reclaimed the lead two minutes later thanks to an own goal, but after that, it was all South Park.
Payne dominated his position on the right side and it showed on the scoreboard. After the Eagles went down 2-1, he managed to find the ball in a scrum of players in the box and poked it past Susquehannock keeper Aaron Bilbie to level the game again in the 19th minute. Then, just two minutes after that, he struck again, this time on a tremendous solo effort, giving South Park its first lead of the game, one that would last until the final whistle.
"I knew (Payne) was one of their better attacking players," Maxwell said. "But, I've never seen him play, and at this level, he's a very good player."
The Warriors trailed 3-2 after the opening half and it didn't take long for that deficit to expand coming out of the break.
The Eagles opened the second half with a goal off a free kick in the opening minute, with Ty Brdar banging home a rebound stop off of Nick Schwarzel's free kick attempt. At that point, South Park's defense tightened up and it was apparent that making up a two-goal deficit was going to be a tall task for Susquehannock.
"I thought in the final 10 minutes of the first half we created some chances," Maxwell said. "The fourth goal was a heart-breaker, letting up a goal right at the beginning of the half and coming out in the second half and trying to change momentum, but to then give up a goal that early is tough."
The Eagles continued to carry the play for the next 20 minutes, limiting the Warriors' chances. But, over the final 20 minutes, Susquehannock finally started to generate chances, getting shots on target from strong areas, only to have them thwarted by South Park goalkeeper Ted Cecotti.
The Eagles held a 13-8 shot advantage, with Cecotti making four saves. Bilbie made six saves for the Warriors.
While the season ending a game short of the state title game, it was a far cry from where Maxwell thought his inexperienced team would finish the year. Not knowing how much he had after losing a lot from the 2013-14 season, a trip to the state semifinals far exceeded his preseason expectations.
"This season went about as good as I could've expected without getting to the state championship on Saturday because we were an inexperienced side," Maxwell said. "We lost eight starters from last year, but we knew we had some quality players. So, our hopes were to go into districts with a good seed, a decent seed and do well enough in the regular season understanding that we are kind of young and get a good seed going into districts and peak at the right time."
Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.