The Archbishop Wood Vikings celebrate after defeating Roman Catholic in penalty kicks to claim the rights of the 2018 PCL plaque - PSD Photo by Patty Morgan
PHILADELPHIA –Christian Petro felt kind of badly. He hadn’t meant to offend Roman Catholic.
But when his successful penalty kick clinched the Catholic League championship on a balmy afternoon-turned-evening Sunday at Northeast High School, he instinctively stripped off his shirt and rushed toward an Archbishop Wood fan base that had jumped the short fence and were bounding the turf like crazed kangaroos in an attempt to celebrate with their gloriously fatigued Vikings.
“I shouldn’t have done that,” said Petro. “I was just . . . really, really happy.”
Petro and Wood’s zealous contingents had good reason to rejoice as quickly as humanly possible. This was a game that had endured an entire regulation and two overtime periods without a goal, a testament to the superb defense, goaltending, and coaching between the top-seed Cahillites and two-seed Vikings.
Then, precisely in the same manner as the semifinal battle with La Salle four nights earlier, Archbishop Wood relied on their frighteningly talented senior goalie Connor Ford to secure the final nail in a five-shot penalty kick nerve-a-thon.
With Wood’s faithful chanting Ford’s name in unison, the calm, cool, collected netminder didn’t disappoint the masses donned in a sea of black, green, and gold. Ford stopped two of Roman’s first three shots, and because his fellow senior captains Bob Hennessey, Joe Trodden, and Kody Taylor – like Ford, all recently named All-Catholic – each scored on a penalty kick prior to All-Catholic Petro’s clincher, it rendered Roman’s fourth and fifth attempts obsolete by virtue of a 4-1 advantage.
(Video by Angelise Stuhl)
“I was ready,” said Petro. “We were all ready. We were focused.”
Petro admitted that having Ford on his side almost seemed like an unfair advantage because of how clutch he has been in similar must-stop situations.
“Connor making those saves lifted the pressure off us,” said Petro. “It was the same thing as last time against La Salle (a penalty kick win in the semifinals by an identical 4-1 score). I knew my boys had my back no matter what happened . . . Connor Ford coming up huge with those big saves. I was just blessed enough to be the last person taking it.”
Ford was asked how he does what he does in penalty kicks so much better than any other goalie. It would have been silly for him to deflect praise, though he tried in vain.
“I just try to read their body and trust my instincts,” said Ford. “They led me the past two games. I’ve been able to guess right on almost every one.
“Bob hits his first one . . . gets us ready. Then I save it and we’re already (with an advantage) right from the very beginning. Everyone else can take a little pressure off themselves. I can loosen up, and it gets in (the opponent’s) heads, too.”
Since 2004, this was Wood’s fifth trip to the Catholic League final and its third title, including victories in 2014 against Roman (1-0 in two overtimes) and 2004 versus St. Joseph’s Prep (3-0). Roman was participating in its fifth consecutive championship. The Cahillites lost twice to both Wood and La Salle; they defeated Father Judge in penalty kicks in 2015.
This latest soiree could have gone either way at any point, but it ended scoreless, meaning that both squads did not allow a goal in regulation or overtime throughout the three-game playoff rounds.
“Typical Catholic League rivalry,” said Wood coach Hugh Kelly. “Great competition. I give Roman a lot of credit. They keep coming at you. We were fortunate a couple of times. They had some chances to finish; we had a couple. We go to PKs and our goalie came up big. There’s no two ways about it. Connor did an outstanding job for us.”
Hennessey said the season “began on August 13th at 4:00. From that minute forward, we wanted this more than anything, to not only beat the two-time defending champs, but not one person from our four years in the classes had beat Roman. That’s our first time. It’s awesome.”
Senior Sean Kerchak, who played sensational defense and thwarted several Roman would-be scoring chances, agreed with Hennessey.
“August,” said Kerchak. “We worked even before August. When we push each other every day in practice three months straight, its just heart and wanting it more. That sums it up.
“It’s unfortunate that it came down to penalties. That’s never the greatest way to go out. It came down to the two best teams. It’s the way the PCL usually works. I’m just happy we came out on top.”
In defeat, Roman Catholic coach Ray DeStephanis modeled true sportsmanship. He agreed that, given the nature of so many close games this fall, the championship needing to be decided by penalty kicks was appropriate.
“Totally,” he said. “You just knew this was going to end up this way. It was the two best teams. I’m super proud. It’s the first time since ’97 we were the number-one seed. It was a coin flip tonight.”
(Video interviews by John Knebels)
Like Wood in the PIAA Class 5A, Roman will have an opportunity to keep playing in the Class 6A bracket. Although DeStephanis said it was too early to squint too far ahead, it was comforting that Roman’s season still might pay huge dividends.
“We get new life,” he said.
Thursday, Nov. 1
Location: South Philly Supersite
Devon Prep vs. Masterman
Time: 5:15 PM
Saturday, Nov. 3
Location: Northeast High School Supersite
Archbishop Wood vs. Franklin Charter
Time: 5:00 PM
Roman Catholic vs. Northeast HS
Time: 7:00 PM