DuBOIS — It’s often said that unforgettable moments and lasting memories happen in the state playoffs, and the Brockway boys soccer team experienced both Tuesday night as the Rovers captured the school’s first PIAA victory since 1993.
The lasting memory will be ending that 24-year state playoff drought with a thrilling, hard-fought 3-2 victory over Seton-Lasalle — a win that also was the school’s first-ever against a WPIAL opponent.
Brockway rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, with junior Hunter Allenbaugh pulling the Rovers even on both occasions — including his third penalty kick conversion in as many games with 6:39 remaining in regulation.
Then came the the unforgettable moment.
With time winding down in the game, Brockway earned a free kick just outside the Rebels box on the right side with just over two minutes to play. Junior Zane Puhala put a beautiful ball into the box, where junior Tino Inzana split two defenders in the air and headed a hard shot past a helpless Rebel keeper Sam Reinhart to put the Rovers up 3-2 with 1:59 left in the game.
For Inzana to be in that spot in that moment speaks volumes about the year the undefeated Rovers (19-0) have experienced. Inzana had never played varsity soccer prior to this year, deciding to make a switch from football. Had he not made that decision, Inzana never would have been on the pitch, let alone be in that spot to score the goal in one of, if not the biggest victory in program history.
“It’s pretty special,” said Inzana of netting the game-winner. “We have a really good team. I mean they (most of team) have been playing their while lives and all are really good. We’ve lost in the (state playoffs) the last two years, and this year just feels like a more magical year for us. This win was good and felt good.
“It’s special. We worked hard all year and we knew that we could compete. And, our coaches told us before the game you can run with anybody. When we went down at haltime, they were saying you can’t give up and just to keep pushing through. No one every lost heart out there, and we just kept playing.”
Brockway’s last win in the state playoffs was a 5-2 decision over Bald Eagle Nittany in the ’93 Class AA postseason. The Rovers lost their next game to East Allegheny, 2-1. The Rovers also topped Bishop McCort, 3-2 in overtime, in the 1992 state playoffs before falling to Fairview, 8-0, in the state quarterfinals.
Since 1993, the Rovers had been 0-7 against WPIAL teams in states, losing three of those games by one goal — including a 3-2 double-overtime loss to Sewickley Academy a year ago. Sewickley was the state runner-up, beating Seton-LaSalle, 2-0, in the Class A West Finals before falling to Camp Hill, 4-1, in the state title game.
Tuesday’s victory came courtesy of a strong finish that saw the Rovers score three times in the final 22:12 after mustering just five shots in the first 57:47 of the game.
Four of those WPIAL losses have come during the tenure of current head coach Rich Esposito, and he was thrilled to finally get that elusive victory.
“We did it .. we got over the WPIAL hurdle,” said Esposito. “That was the first time we’ve (ever) beaten a WPIAL team in the 29 years I’ve been here. This was great. Coming we, we just said give us a chance, we’ll play with anybody. We told these guys that they (Rebels) are good team, but we’re a good team too. I think some districts and teams were overlooking us and thought we’d be an easy win in states. I told them last night we aren’t an easy win, and we’re going to go out and play.
“It was finally nice to win one of those close ones (in states) and get a bounce at the end. Tino, what can you say about him. He came from football, and he’s really helped us out. We debated what do there at the end, Zane (Puhala) and Hunter (Allenbaugh) were dominating the middle, so I said just stick Tino up front. He’ll get a body part on the ball — he just goes to the net. And, he got his head on it, and that was just a great goal.
“We knew they had speed, and that we were at a disadvantage on height and hardly won nay balls that were in the air. But, we hung in there and stuck together, and if you do that good things will happen.”
Esposito also said the win had meaning far beyond just the team on the field.
“This wasn’t just a win for this group, but for a lot of other teams. And, you wouldn’t believe how many people were here from those 90s teams. They are here, they call me, they text, and I tell the kids, they’re cheering just as hard like they were playing because they want to see get over this hurdle. They know what it takes, and we appreciate all the fans.
“What a great support we’ve had throughout the entire playoffs. And, that goes a long way. We have a good soccer tradition in Brockway, and now with the girls too. But, this boys’ program has been around 30-plus years, and this was big, great step for us.”
The first half was largely played between the 18-yard lines with shots coming at a premium for both teams.
Brockway had just two shots in the opening 40 minutes. Reinhart stopped a long direct kick by Rover Nathan Long just before the 10-minute mark on what was the game’s first shot. Rover Anthony Esposito had a shot go just wide at 25:00 into the game.
That was it for the Rovers’ offense in the first half.
As for the Rebels, they had a few more scoring chances — six to be exact — but Rovers’ keeper Austin Moore did his part to keep his team in the game.
Moore made a diving save at the 12-minute mark and made another save in the 18th minute. Just over a minute later, Moore’s defense helped him out by blocking two shots after the Rover ha come out of net to track down a loose ball on the far side of the box.
Seton-LaSalle momentarily appeared to take the lead when it scored 19:50 into the game, but an offsides call negated the goal.
Moore made two more leaping saves late in the half, deflecting the ball over top the net in both instances. He made four saves in the first half and eight overall.
However, in between those two late saves, the Rebels managed to find the back of the net when Kyle killen scored off a corner kick with 6:28 left in the half.
The Rebels took that 1-0 lead into the break.
Seton-LaSalle kept the pressure on Moore to open the second half, but the Rover keeper made another diving save in the sixth minute before stopping a header attempt by Kellen Krebs just before the 11-minute mark.
That’s when Brockway started to flip the momentum in its favor and eventually outshot the Rebels, 9-4 over the final 28 minutes of action.
Puhala got that push started when when he had a shot go just wide in the 13th minute. Just over two minutes later Angelo Inzana made a strong run down the left sideline before turning the corner and blasting a shot off the side of the Rebel net.
Allenbaugh didn’t miss just over three minutes later when he took a pass from Clayton Heckman and made a quick move before firing a shot past Reinhard to even the score at 1-1 with 22:12 left to play.
The Rebels wasted little time regaining the lead, as they scored off a direct kick just 1:03 later. Moore made the initial save on Darryl Daniels kick, leaping to deflect the shot off the crossbar.
However, two Rebels beat the Brockway defense to the loose ball, with Gabe Rosario slamming the ball home before Moore could get back to his feet from the initial stop.
The quick counter by the Rebels didn’t seem to phase the Rovers, as they kept counter-attacking with their season on the line.
Angelo Inzana had a shot go wide and Puhala one high shortly after Roario’s goal. Moore later made two quick saves during a flurry in front of his net to keep it a 2-1 game with just over seven minutes to play.
The Rovers tied the game shortly thereafter when Heckman was pulled down in the box away from the ball. A penalty kick was called, which drew a long protest from Seton-LaSalle’s coach on the field while an injured Rebel was being attended too behind the play.
Once play resumed, Allenbaugh confidently buried his third penalty shot of the postseason to knot the score at 2-2 with 6:39 left on the clock.
Puhala nearly gave the Rovers the lead just over a minute later but had a direct kick stopped by Reinhart.
Yet another foul on the Rebels in the closing minutes gave Puhala another chance on a direct kick. And, this time his cross found Tino Inzana, who headed home the eventual game-winner that propelled the Rovers into the second round of the state playoffs.
Brockway now plays WPIAL runner-up Springdale on Saturday at a site and time to be determined. Sprindale beat District 5 champ Windber, 2-0, Tuesday.