Canon-McMillan boys score 2 late goals, edge Plum in Class AAAA semis

Saturday, October 26, 2019 | 10:22 PM

A few minutes after the Plum boys soccer team’s magical season ended Saturday with a heartbreaking 3-2 loss in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals that saw Canon-McMillan score twice in the final six minutes, Mustangs coach Raf Kolankowski used the moment as a teaching tool.

“It’s disappointing, but I told them it’s a life lesson,” he said. “Whether it’s soccer or in the real world, you can be so close to getting something and it can be taken away from you. Hopefully they can learn from it not only on the soccer field, but also in everyday life.”

The top-seeded Mustangs had their sights on completing a journey to Highmark Stadium as they led 2-1 late in the second half. But a goal by Joseph Fonagy score the game with five minutes, 17 seconds remaining, and Owen Maher got the winner with 1:52 remaining to send the Big Macs to the final in a thriller at Mars Athletic Complex.

No. 4-seeded Canon McMillan (14-3-1) will face No. 2 Mt. Lebanon (15-4-1) in the title game at Highmark Stadium at a date and time to be announced. Plum finished the season 16-1-2.

Fonagy tied it with a well-placed header off a free kick from Luke Gladden from 40 yards, and Maher’s winner came off a set piece. The ball bounced around in the box, and Plum keeper Gabriel Kuhn made two saves in front only to have the ball come to Maher, who headed it into the net. After the goal, Maher rushed to midfield to celebrate with teammates.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried when we were down, but we have a good group that’s been in that situation before,” Canon-McMillan coach Larry Fingers said. “They knew what was on the line. It was win or go home, and we have a resilient group that got the job done.”

Two of Canon McMillan’s goals came off set pieces, and the other one was set up by a penalty on a set piece.

“They’ve done this all year,” Kolankowski said. “Talking to other coaches, they said 80 to 90% of their goals come on set pieces and it showed today. We’re a small team, and it’s tough to defend that. They had so many opportunities that it was only a matter of time before they broke through.”

The comeback capped a wild second half.

After the teams went scoreless for the first 40 minutes, the Mustangs received a penalty kick on a foul in the box by Canon-McMillan’s Aiden Walsh. Luke Gildea, who was carried off the field with an injury in the first half before returning seven minutes later, converted the PK to give the Mustangs the lead in the 52nd minute.

Less than a minute later, Canon-McMillan got its own penalty kick after a foul by Plum, and Fonagy connected to tie the score 1-1.

The teams traded chances from there until A.J. Koma fed a beautiful breakout pass to Tyler Kolankowski in the box, and Kolankowski finished the chance to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead with 12:45 remaining.

Though the Mustangs fell short of a WPIAL title, they earned the program’s first section title in 14 years and won a playoff game for the first time since then.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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