Second-half rally lifts unbeaten Mars boys soccer to program’s first state title
Friday, November 20, 2020 | 8:47 PM
All season long, the Mars boys soccer team was led by its defense.
Mars had only allowed eight goals in 20 games, but when District 3 champion Northern scored the ninth in the first half of the PIAA Class 3A championship on Friday at Hersheypark Stadium, the Fightin’ Planets knew that it was their offense that was going to have to bring them back.
With about 18 minutes remaining in the game, senior forward Dane Beller answered the call as he scored his 37th and 38th goals of the season almost two minutes apart to push the Fightin’ Planets (21-0) past the Polar Bears (19-1-1) for a 2-1 victory and the program’s first PIAA title.
“There was never really a doubt because every single time we’ve been down, we have clawed back,” Beller said. “The same thing happened in the WPIAL final. We were down 1-0 at half, and we won 2-1 in overtime. I knew our team was going to come back. We never give up.”
The victory capped off a special season for Mars as the Fightin’ Planets went undefeated, captured the third WPIAL title in school history and recorded 12 shutouts over the course of the season.
Mars coach Chris Knauff gave all the credit to his players to complete a season like they did.
“I’m just so proud of these guys because no matter what happens, they never give up. They just keep working and good things happen,” Knauff said. “You put yourself in those situations and you never give up. This is a great team. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Early into Friday’s game it seemed like the Northern Polar Bears were going to walk away with the five-pound chocolate bar. They controlled possession, put pressure on the Mars defense and implemented a physical style of play.
About 16 minutes into the game, the Polar Bears broke through. Senior captain Connor Swope received a ball just outside the 18-yard box and had a free path to Mars keeper Jacob Gareis.
Gareis came charging out, but Swope stayed calm and placed a shot just underneath the goalkeeper for the first goal of the game. Although Mars was down, there was never a worry.
“I knew we would get one because there were chances out there,” Knauff said. “We just needed to hold them off because we were gonna get one, and then we were gonna get two. We just couldn’t let them score again.”
The Fightin’ Planets didn’t, and although the Polar Bears controlled the play for a while, the momentum started to swing in Mars’ direction midway through the second half. After about 50 minutes of physical play, Beller received a yellow card early in the second half.
He took his time on the sidelines and got stretched out for the final push of the season. When he stepped back on the field, the Fightin’ Planets took their play up a notch.
“These guys are just a super-fit team, and they will push you and grind you, and most teams just can’t sustain that, and I think that helped turn the tide,” Knauff said.
It started with senior forward Tyler Nymberg as he started to present a lot of problems for Northern defenders by making runs to the corner and runs through the box that created several opportunities before Beller’s first goal.
“That’s what he does. He creates chaos for the defenders, and he’s a handful to defend,” Knauff said.
With 18:12 remaining in the game, junior midfielder Devin Schupp received a pass on the right wing and delivered a cross that carried to the back post. In a group of players, Beller rose above the rest and somehow got a head on the ball to put it into the back of the net for the equalizer.
“There’s was nothing going through my head other than it had to go in,” Beller said. “We needed it, and it just worked perfectly.”
Just under two minutes later, Beller received a pass with his back to the goal, and he made a move before firing a shot with his right foot to the left-side netting for the championship-clinching goal.
Earlier in the day, the Mars girls soccer team won its second straight PIAA Class 3A title with a 2-0 victory over Villa Joseph Marie, and after watching them capture a title, Beller said he knew he couldn’t go home empty handed.
“There was zero chance we could lose because they had won last year too, and that would’ve been horrible,” Beller said. “But it’s good for them. We won. It’s just a great night.”
Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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