The Central Bucks South boys soccer team almost shocked the world.
The Titans led undefeated Conestoga with less than 20 minutes left in Friday night’s PIAA Class 4A championship game.
The Pioneers, though, tied the game in regulation and won it in the second overtime, 2-1, forcing the Titans to settle for silver medals.
“I think our effort as a team was second to none. I could not have asked for any more from my team,” said second-year South coach Kyle Pettican.
South (19-6-2), the Suburban One League Colonial Division runner-up and sixth-place team from District One, beat District Three champion Cumberland Valley in the state opener for its first PIAA victory in the program’s 20-year history. The Titans then beat the top two teams from District Seven, North Allegheny and Norwin, to reach the final.
Conestoga (24-0-1), though, was a little too much. The Pioneers won their sixth state championship, including five under 22-year coach David Zimmerman, who has 352 career victories. Pettican played for Zimmerman and was part of the 2011 championship team.
Much of the game – played at Eagle View Middle School in Mechanicsburg – was played in the rain. The Conestoga girls took the field before the boys game, dropping a 4-1 decision to Pennridge.
South was trying to make it a really big night for the school, as the football team topped Central Bucks West, 42-14, in the district Class 6A semifinals.
South goalkeeper Pat VanLuvanee made big saves all night.
Late in the first half, South defender Connor Victor headed a ball away that was headed for the back of the net to keep the game scoreless.
Early in the second half, South defender Andrew Sherstnyov made an excellent save to keep Conestoga off the board.
Soon after, with 34:39 remaining, South sophomore Josh Dozier headed an Oleksandr Sokol corner kick in to give the Titans a 1-0 lead. Until then, Conestoga had allowed only eight goals all season.
“Ironically, we scored from a header on a corner. We don’t do that. We are not a set-piece team, so to score a goal from that against the now state champs is remarkable,” Pettican said.
Conestoga tied the score with 18:39 left on a corner kick by Brady Costin, a Delaware recruit, that went directly into the net.
The teams played a scoreless 20-minute overtime period before Conestoga’s Ryan Zellefrow scored the game-winner with 9:42 to go in the second overtime on a perfectly placed 22-yard direct kick.
Pettican said his team played well all over the field.
“Pat V. was incredible, he came up big on some good shots. The back line of Victor, Shers, (Evan) Rumford and Clev (Sean Clevenstine) all locked down and took their key forwards out of the game. The midfield and forwards did an excellent job of working up and back putting tons of pressure on their back line. The thing that makes me so proud of the boys is that it took them scoring two unbelievable goals to beat us. They didn’t score against us in open play and both had to be placed perfectly. We are one of a couple teams to score against them. One of two teams to take the lead against them. We took the best program in the state to double overtime,” the coach said.
As Pettican looks back, he believes the opening-round district win over Strath Haven was the catalyst for the playoff run.
“Seeds don’t say everything. Especially in playoffs. In playoffs, nine times out of 10, the team that comes the most focused, hard working, and wants it more usually wins. A different mentality came after getting over the Strath Haven game,” he said.
South will lose 13 seniors, but has a very good junior class returning, along with several sophomores and freshmen who gained valuable experience.
“It’ll be tough losing those guys and the roles they had. Not only on the field but off the field. They were the foundation,” Pettican said of his seniors. “That being said, a lot of the players that played key roles on the field this year were juniors or lower. With the right mindset, we could be even stronger next year.”