By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister Videos: Angelise Stuhl
Every Catholic League boys’ soccer season authors its own separate entity. Perhaps it is defined by an upset during the playoffs or in the actually championship, or maybe a player orchestrates an all-around performance for the ages.
This year’s Catholic League might be known as one that always went according to script.
In the playoff semifinals Wednesday late afternoon/early evening at Archbishop Ryan, top-seed Roman Catholic blanked four-seed St. Joseph’s Prep, 3-0, while two-seed Archbishop Wood outlasted three-seed La Salle in penalty kicks (4-1) after the two teams had endured the entire regulation and two sudden-death overtime periods without cause for celebration.
Through the four quarterfinal games and two semis, every higher seed has been victorious, and none have allowed a goal. Roman, in the league championship for the fifth consecutive season, with a loss to Wood in 2014, a win over Father Judge in 2015, and then consecutive losses to La Salle, will face Archbishop Wood in the final Sunday afternoon at Northeast High School. The game will begin about 30 minutes after the girls’ championship, which begins at 1:00.
“Obviously, it feels awesome to be in the finals once again,” said Roman Catholic senior Kieran Boyle. “We worked extremely hard this season. We want the plaque and we want to go farther into cities and also states.
“We are very excited and grateful to be in the championship again. We are going to play the next game like it is our last.”
Boyle had scored each of Roman’s goals in a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Archbishop Ryan. Displaying its offensive depth, the Cahillites had three different scorers find the net against the Prep. Senior Eric Williams and junior Kevin Davis scored in the first half, and senior Mark Iannacone’s goal about 10 minutes into the second half basically created a chasm.
“The feeling is incredible just to make it again,” said Roman senior Jared Dillon.“Not everyone gets to say they went to the PCL (finals) four years in a row, and I wouldn’t want to have a different group of guys by my side.”
Archbishop Wood’s win was a lot trickier.
After a scoreless regulation, the Vikings and two-time defending champion La Salle traded two more periods of silence in a sudden-death format. It was a far cry from their regular meeting, a shocking 4-0 Wood success, La Salle’s first CL loss in three years.
Defending the net for the Vikings was first-team All-Catholic senior goalie Connor Ford.
“It's an amazing feeling winning in that way, especially after losing in the semis the past two years,” said Ford. “Everybody on the field gave 100% effort, so it was great to come away with the win. The crowd was big and a lot of students, parents, teachers, and alumni came out to support us. It was an awesome atmosphere to play in.
“However, we all know that we still have one more game to play, and we're all going to need to work hard and play together if we want to get the win against Roman on Sunday.”
Ford was asked to describe his demeanor during penalty kicks.
“We practiced penalties as a team on Monday and Tuesday, so we felt pretty prepared going into the shootout,” said Ford. “I just tried to stay calm and focused and let my instincts take over, and fortunately I was able to go the right way and get to two of the three shots.”
Seniors Bob Hennessey, Joe Trodden, Koty Taylor, and Christian Petro were successful in their attempts. Ford allowed only one of three shots, and once the Vikings had scored four times, it mathematically eliminated the Explorers.
“I had full confidence in my teammates to put their kicks away,” said Ford, “but it still came as a huge relief every time the ball hit the net.”
Hennessey was obviously thrilled with the result.
“It’s awesome to be able to go to the finals,” he said. “We’ve been working so hard for this. We were all very happy with the win against La Salle, but we all know the job is not done yet. We still have to keep grinding.”
The aforementioned Taylor was succinct.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “After working hard all season since August, it feels great to know it paid off.”