South Park boys soccer savors return to section supremacy

Tuesday, October 15, 2019 | 1:10 AM

Like other playoff-bound squads, South Park’s boys soccer team is eagerly awaiting the release of the WPIAL playoff brackets later this week.

In the meantime, the Eagles are happy for a moment to enjoy their regained section supremacy.

The Eagles captured another Section 1 title after missing out a year ago. The crown wasn’t theirs until the final kick of section play, when South Park secured a 1-0 overtime win over Elizabeth Forward.

The dramatic finish means South Park (13-3-1, 11-1-0) has a reasonable claim to a top-four seed when the Class AA bracket is released, and it also adds another regular-season title for a program that is accustomed to success.

“We were excited to get the section title back after losing it last year to Keystone Oaks,” South Park coach Jonathan Cantwell said. “We don’t lose many section titles, not to say that arrogantly, but in 18 years here, we’ve won 15. But I can tell you more about the three we didn’t win than the 15 we won.”

Keystone Oaks, which finished with a 10-1-1 section record this year, could have repeated as section champion if the Eagles slipped up in that final section match Thursday. South Park’s players were motivated to finish the job.

“A lot of these guys were with us last year, and we had that fire, that determination, that anger at having not won after being successful for so long,” center midfielder Joe Irwin said.

Having split with Keystone Oaks in their regular season meetings, South Park’s players knew a draw against Elizabeth Forward would have clinched at least a share of the section title. The Eagles, though, weren’t in a sharing mood.

“We definitely did not want to tie,” Irwin said. “We knew we were capable of winning, and we knew we had the skills and ability to win. It came down to how badly we wanted it, and the support from the fans that night was really great. It felt like, ‘Let’s do this and do something great for our community.’”

The Eagles got the winning goal by throwing additional numbers forward in the extra period, and Dylan Weiss applied the winning touch to spark the celebration after some good build-up play.

“We had some opportunities in regulation on some set pieces, and it’s kind of disappointing we didn’t get one. But we knew it was going to require something special because Elizabeth Forward had played good defense all night,” Cantwell said. “It was a play where two of our midfielders got in behind their back line. We had to mix it up a little bit, send some different runners, and it maybe caught them a little off guard. … It was a great individual effort by Tyler Robinson, Jason Luffey and Dylan Weiss, who were the three who really combined to make that goal happen.”

The strength of South Park’s team has been its play down the spine of the formation, where Luffey, Irwin and Weiss help control the center of the field and get the ball forward. Weiss is the team’s top scorer with double-digit goals, Cantwell said, but the Eagles’ offense isn’t built around a 30-goal-type striker.

Goalkeeper Logan Thomas has been solid, and the center back partnership of Peyton Pauline and Ben Hartman has anchored a team that has allowed just 11 goals, only four of which were given up in section play.

“In years past, South Park has had a lot of skilled, great players. We have a lot of players (this season) who had to step up into new roles this year, and our technical ability might not be at that level, but we make up for it with our work ethic,” Irwin said. “It’s really a great group, and defensively, I’d say we have a really good core. Peyton Pauline really leads that group in the back, and we really have a lot of fire going forward with people making those runs.”

Quarterfinalists a year ago, the Eagles might be in the deepest classification in terms of teams capable of reaching the WPIAL finals. Cantwell named perennial contenders Quaker Valley and Shady Side Academy, as well as Deer Lakes, Charleroi, North Catholic and Keystone Oaks as teams that will be tough matchups for anyone in Class AA.

With so many perilous pairings that could arise, Cantwell is concerned with his own team’s form and hoping the ability to play multiple styles will pay off.

“We certainly have some inconsistency in our play. Some games we’ll come out and dominate possession, and some we’ll sit back and play more of a counter style,” Cantwell said. “I’d probably rather play the former, where we’re on the ball more, but we’ve played games, like playing (Class AAAA) Peters Township and Hollidaysburg, where we’ve had to sit back and counter. … It probably prepares us for the postseason, because you’re going to have to do both of those.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.


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