CLARION — The Brockway boys soccer used a dominant first-half performance to grab the lead against Karns City Thursday in the District 9 Class A championship, then protected that lead to perfection in the second half to capture the program’s second straight title with a 2-0 victory.
Karns City’s game plan was evident from the opening whistle, as the Gremlins looked to double team and be physical against the Rovers’ top two scorers — seniors Zane Puhala and Hunter Allenbaugh — in an effort to take them out the game.
The planned worked to an extent — as neither scored in the game — but duo didn’t back down and played well in the midfield despite the physical play. The Rovers were awarded over 20 free kicks due to foul calls, with three different Gremlins receiving yellow cards in the game compared to just one for Brockway.
With Puhala and Allenbaugh doing more facilitating in the game, junior Linkin Nichols and sophomore Noah Bash stepped up in a big way for the Rovers as each scored first-half goals to put Brockway up 2-0 at the break. Nichols also step up Bash’s score.
Brockway played more defensive-minded in the final 40 minutes to help support freshman goalkeeper Garet Park, who needed to make just three saves to record the shutout.
The victory also secured a historic double for Brockway, as it marked the first time the boys and girls soccer teams each won district titles in the same year.
Two years ago the Lady Rovers captured their first ever D-9 crown, only to watch the boys fall in the finals later that week. A year ago, it was the boys who struck gold only to have the girls finish as the district runner-up.
“We wanted to come out strong and get on them right away,” said Brockway coach Rich Esposito. “We kind of knew they were going to double team Zane and Hunter and really fouled them a lot. I thought those two played great in the midfield despite that.
“We came in thinking our wingers were really going to have to contribute today. And, our wings were open all night and we used that. We told the kids, someone is going to have step up and Linkin had a goal and assist, which was great. Noah Bash came off the bench and played great again, as did a lot of other guys.
“It was a good effort overall and to hold them off the board was pretty impressive too. It never gets old winning D-9 championships, and it’s great for both of us to finally win it in same year. (Coach) Jess (Leadbetter) and the girls put a little pressure on us again by them winning, and I said this has to be the year and it is.
“It’s a proud moment for the school and the town. And again, we had a great crowd here. I’d also like to thank my coaches, who all do a great job, and everyone for coming out to support us.”
The opening 40 minutes belonged to the Rovers, who kept the ball on the Karns City half of the field for most of the half. The Gremlins, who earned a corner kick early in the game, could only muster one shot the whole first half. And, that shot came in the final minute and was easily stopped by Park.
On the other end, Allenbaugh had three good scoring chances in the first 13-plus minutes of the game.
Two came on direct kicks. The first in the fourth minute went wide of the near post, while the second in the 14th minute was denied by keeper Jacob Weckerly but went out of play for a corner kick. In between, Allenbaugh also had a long shot from the left wing stopped at the near post.
Karns City then had two different players receive yellow cards for hard challenges just before the midway point of the half.
Brockway kept the pressure on past the 20-minute mark but still couldn’t find the scoreboard. Puhala had a long just go just high and clang off the football goal post just above the Gremlin net in the 22nd minute.
The Rovers finally cracked Weckerly with just over 16 minutes left in the half. The Gremlin keeper made an initial save on a long shot by Allenbaugh, but Nichols made a strong from the left wing and tracked down the loose ball and fired home a rebound shot to put Brockway up 1-0.
Bash scored a huge insurance goal with 5:13 remaining in the half to make it a 2-0 game.
Nichols was again involved in the scoring play, this time on the passing end. The junior made a nice run down the left side, beating a Gremlin defender as he cut back towards the box. He crossed the ball to Bash, who one-timed a shot into the back of the net.
That lead proved too much for Karns City to overcome, although both teams had a handful of scoring chances in the second half.
Park was forced to make a save just 1:30 into the half, but he had to do little after that. Karns City had a shot sail over top the Rover net in the 62nd minute, while Park made his third and final save on a shot by Dakota King with 14:29 to play.
Weckerly made five second-half saves for the Gremlins. He turned away a redirect attempt by Tino Inzana on a throw-in in the 54th minute, then smothered a point-blank shot attempt by Nichols in the 59th minute.
He later stopped a shot by Puhala from the middle of the box in the 65th minute, while Inzana had two different headers go wide — one in each direction — off corner kicks on either side of the 70-minute mark.
Weckerly posted his final save with just under six minutes to play.
“We kind of went into a shell in the second because the field seemed to be too tilted in their direction,” said Esposito. “We kind of went defensive too soon. But, with Jake (Anderson) and Clayton (Heckman) back there along with Dom Inzana and Jared Marchiori, they did a great job, as did our freshman (Park) in net who got a shutout in the D-9 finals. That’s big for Garet.”
Both Brockway teams return to action Tuesday in the first round of the state playoffs in a doubleheader at DuBois Area High School. Game times have yet to be determined.
The Rovers will have a rematch no matter who they play, as they get the winner of the WPIAL third-place game between Springdale and Seton-LaSalle.
Brockway beat LaSalle, 3-2, in the opening round last year in DuBois, then topped Springdale, 2-1, in the PIAA quarterfinals.
As for the Lady Rovers, they play the loser of Saturday’s WPIAL championship game between Freedom and Bentworth.