HERSHEY – Having a big reputation can often lead to also having a big bull's-eye on your back.
That was certainly the case for the Dallastown boys’ soccer team.
A national top-10 ranking, in addition to earning the moniker as the No. 1 team in the state of Pennsylvania, will certainly draw attention.
The Wildcats, however, accrued those prestigious honors with their play on the field throughout the season. So, even one game in which things didn’t go their way cannot completely tarnish that reputation.
That one game, unfortunately, was the District 3 Class 4-A title game Saturday night at Hersheypark Stadium, when the top-seeded Dallastown boys squared off against third-seeded Central Dauphin. The Wildcats played well throughout, forcing the Rams out of their preferred style of play.
In the end, however, it came down to two shots – one that Dallastown missed and one that Central Dauphin converted. A penalty kick for Dallastown standout Gabe Wunderlich, that was saved by CD goalie Eric Axtman with 8:32 left in the first half, prevented the Wildcats from taking the lead. Conversely, a perfectly placed kick off the foot of CD sophomore Luke Johnson proved to be the difference in a 1-0 victory for the Rams.
“We try to bring our best game,” Dallastown coach Andrew Foust said. “And we’re hoping that our opponent is doing the same thing. It was a good battle all around. Our guys battled hard all around and they were tough, but we just didn’t end up on top.”
The Rams (20-1-1) entered the night looking to score a signature win in both the district final, but also against a nationally acclaimed squad such as Dallastown, which fell to 23-1.
“I just kept waiting for us to lose,” CD coach Jerry Shoop said of his team’s 20th consecutive triumph. “But then I realized that we don’t have to lose. We just keep winning.”
CD had a great opportunity to get ahead early on, but a crossing pass inside the box just missed the foot of the attacker.
The York-Adams League champions picked up the pressure and the pace after that. Another prime scoring chance with 13 minutes left was stopped by Axtman.
Moments later, a foul in the box afforded the Wildcats a golden opportunity with a PK. Wunderlich, who scored the game-winner Tuesday in the semifinals against Palmrya, took a hard, low shot to the right of the Axtman. The CD goalie, however, guessed right and deflected the ball back into play before a CD defender cleared it out of the play.
Wunderlich took that play incredibly hard after the final horn sounded. He was consoled by Dallastown assistant coach Matt Zimmerman before the team headed off to the locker room. Zimmerman’s message was the same one that Foust delivered afterwards.
“The boys know that we’re not done,” Foust said. “We have a game Tuesday (in the state playoffs) and we have to put this behind us and prepare for that.”
Dallastown will begin its quest for a state title against District 12 champion La Salle College at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Ramp Playground in Philadelphia. That will be the first game of what Foust hopes is a four-game stretch that will earn the program its first-ever PIAA title in soccer.
“The season’s not over,” Foust said. “We just have to continue to take care of business on the field. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way, but, hey, that’s soccer. Winning 23 straight games is pretty impressive and it had to end sometime.”
If the Wildcats and Rams do get a rematch in the state tournament, it wouldn’t come until the final. That contest, coincidentally enough, would take place on the same field Friday, Nov. 15.
Susquehanock 2, Hershey 0: At Glen Rock, the Warriors (21-2-2) won the District 3 Class 3-A third-place match to qualify for the state playoffs.
Jon Lippy's second-half penalty kick broke a 0-0 tie. Greyson Murray provided insurance a little later with an unassisted goal. Nick Koval made five saves to record the shutout. Hershey finished 14-5-2.
Susquehannock's state journey begins at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Harriton High School vs. District 1 champion Strath Haven (13-7-1).
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.