Franklin Regional, Thomas Jefferson boys soccer teams battle to draw

Tuesday, September 10, 2019 | 11:51 PM

Soccer ties aren’t always about the action but the reaction.

Fifth-ranked Thomas Jefferson packed in its defense like a football team stacking the box against the run Tuesday night.

With 10 players back at times for the Jaguars, No. 1 Franklin Regional had trouble doing what it does best: wide cross-passes and control-the-pace tempo.

Panthers super sophomore forward Anthony DiFalco had to work to get around defenders, nothing came easy.

It was like going in circles and continuously bumping elbows with the same people in a crowded room.

The strategy had an effect on the defending WPIAL Class 3A champion Panthers who, despite taking the lead early in the second half on freshman Colton Hudson’s first career score, had to settle for a 1-1 tie in a Section 4 game at Panther Stadium in Murrysville.

On an unseasonably humid night, the teams worked double-time to earn a point in the standings.

It was the third tie of the season for Thomas Jefferson (3-0-3, 1-0-2).

“I thought we were very aggressive on defense, and that made a difference,” Thomas Jefferson coach Dr. Michael Kulish said. “We had to be on our toes against a great team like that. Our kids are out to show they can play with the best teams. (Franklin Regional) had shots against us, they just weren’t accurate. They’re a really good team.”

Franklin Regional (3-0-1, 2-0-1) had not allowed a goal all season before this game — it gave up seven in 22 games last season — but surrendered one to senior midfielder Justin Finnegan on a set piece with 10 minutes, 53 seconds to play in regulation.

Neither team could connect during the two 10-minute overtime periods, although DiFalco clanked one off the crossbar with about two minutes left in the second overtime.

DiFalco was coming off back-to-back hat tricks.

The Panthers had the look of a team that had just lost, not tied.

“We’ll learn from this game,” Franklin Regional coach Rand Hudson said. “We have to do a better job of taking advantage of our opportunities. We were not as sharp tonight, but we’ll work on some things.”

DiFalco left the game in the second half and did not return until the start of overtime. He cut his right knee on a grate near the far sideline, and it was thought he might need stitches.

After treatment, he returned and nearly fired in the winner.

“He wanted to come back,” Rand Hudson said. “When he saw it went to overtime, he said he was coming back in.”

Thomas Jefferson also lost a standout player in senior goalkeeper Jack Wessel, who injured his knee shortly after the goal by Hudson. He did not return, and Kulish said the injury did not appear to be serious. Wessel, however, had an ACL tear two years ago.

He made eight saves before leaving and watched several shots by the Panthers sail high, too strong to become a threat. Sophomore Andrew Getsy replaced Wessel.

Kulish said his defensive strategy was effective, but it changed some in the second half.

“We had guys sitting too far back,” he said. “We needed to get up the field more. We knew we could hang with them.”

Finnegan scored on a direct kick from about 35 yards away, the result of patience, his coach said.

“He shot it level and didn’t try to overpower the ball,” Kulish said.

Colton Hudson’s shot came from the far left side and likely would have missed the net to the right, but it ricocheted off a Thomas Jefferson player and went in. The tough-angle score gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead after a scoreless first half.

Quality chances diminished as the game wore on for the Panthers.

“(Thomas Jefferson) was physical all night,” Rand Hudson said. “We need to be sharper with our finishes.”

Thomas Jefferson also tied Peters Township and Chartiers Valley.

“Our section is the toughest in the WPIAL, in my opinion,” Kulish said.

FR defeated TJ three times last season by scores of 4-1, 2-0 and 5-1, the last coming in the WPIAL semifinals.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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