DuBOIS — The Brockway boys soccer team shut out rival Elk County Catholic, 2-0, Thursday night at DuBois Area High School to reach familiar territory — the District 9 Class A championship game.
The matchup was a classic battle between the Rovers and Crusaders — one that was a well-played and physical on both sides. And, for the third time this season it was the Rovers who made the plays to come out in the winning end.
Brockway controlled the action for most of the first-half but had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. However, the Rovers got the only goal they would need in the 34th minute when Hunter Allenbaugh was tripped making a run in the ECC box.
Allenbaugh took the ensuing penalty kick and blasted a shot past ECC keeper Alex O’Neill to put the Rovers up 1-0 with 6:29 left in the first half.
Zane Puhala added a crucial insurance goal in the second half just past the 56-minute mark, and the Rover defense did the rest from there. Keeper Austin Moore only needed to make saves en route to adding yet another shutout to his resume.
The shutout was Brockway’s second of the year over ECC, as the Rovers won 3-0 at Elk County in the final game of the regular season. Brockway also beat ECC, 3-1, at home back on Sept. 21.
The victory puts Brockway in its sixth district final in the past seven years and sets up a title-game rematch with Port Allegany. The Gators are the defending D-9 Class A champs, having bested the Rovers, 2-0, last year for its first district crown.
Port, the No. 3 seed, reached the finals with a thrilling 3-2 overtime win against second-seeded Clarion-Limestone Wednesday night. The Rovers beat the Gators, 6-0, in Brockway back on Oct. 12.
A date or site has yet to be determined for the Class A final.
“If anyone though this going to be a blowout tonight just becuase of where we’re at, there was no way,” said Rovers coach Rich Esposito. “This was right what we expected. PLaying a team three times in so hard, because they keep making adjustments.
“They did that from the first game to when we played them last week, and it’s like a chess match. We’re trying to counter his moves, Elk plays a great defensive game and hat’s off off to them. TJ (Weaver) does a great job with them, and I think there’s a lot of respect between their kids and our kids.
“We knew we were going to have our hands full tonight. I think there was a lot of pressure on us tonight, and the kids handled it well. We had tremendous opportunities to break the game open and couldn’t.
“But, we kept at it, and they don’t get frustrated. They hang in there and know it will come. Hunter’s penalty kick was huge, because 0-0 at the half is a win for Elk I think. We just added that to our offense last night (Wednesday) with our midfielders making runs through because Elk puts so many guys in the box.
“And, Hunter made a nice run and got taken down. Then he stepped right up and handled the pressure and buried it (PK). That was great for us before half, and Zane’s goal in the second half was also big. Those two are big leaders for us and came through when we needed them.”
Esposito also is excited about the opportunity to play Port again for the district title.
“Getting back to the D-9 finals is big, and we get our rematch (with Port),” he said. “They have a nice team and have a 50-goal career scorer (Payton Caden). He played great in their semifinal game and we’ll have to keep an eye on him.
“We’ve been looking forward to this since last year, and it would be the same if we had beaten them. They would be waiting too. They deserve to be there, and now we just have to try to get that title back to Brockway.”
Brockway came out firing on all cylinders, and Puhala nearly put the Rovers up in the opening minute but fired a hard shot just over the ECC net.
Teammate Angelo Inzana blasted a shot just wide from the left side, while O’Neill stopped shots by Tino Inzana and Noah Bash — all in the opening eight minutes.
Elk County got off its first shot just past the 10-minute mark, but Erick Mader’s attempt sailed over the Rover net. Moore was forced to make his first save of the game on a long direct kick by the Crusaders just under 18:00 into the game.
Brockway then turned up the pressure past the 22-minute mark, with the Rovers creating a half dozen scoring chances over the next six minutes.
However, O’Neill and his defense was up to the task in keeping the game scoreless. O’Neill made a nice diving save on a hard shot by Carter Adams at the 24:44 mark and also stopped a shot by Puhala during that stretch. Brockway also had a couple shots be just off the mark.
Allenbaugh then single-handedly gave the Rovers the lead with his strong run in the box and penalty kick conversion with 6:29 left until halftime. Allenbaugh nearly made it 2-0 before the break, but O’Neill made a sprawling save with 2:36 left on the clock. O’Neill made seven saves on the night.
The second half turned into more a defensive struggle, with Brockway outshooting the Crusaders, 6-3 over the final 40 minutes (17-6 overall).
Puhala had a shot denied by O’Neill just past the 5-minute mark, while Allenbaugh fired a shot over the ECC net a couple minutes later. Puhala had another effort got just wide in the 54th minute before finding the back of the net less than three minutes later.
Rover Devin Velez got the ball from the right side to Puhala in the middle of the field, the Rover junior turned and blasted a long shot past O’Neill to make it 2-0 23:53 left to play.
Brockway then leaned heavily on its defense from there. Elk County tried to rally. Crusader Regis Wortman had a shot stopped by Moore just before the midway point of the second half, then had a direct kick sail high a couple minutes later.
Moore made his fourth and final save in the waning seconds to secure the shutout and send the Rovers back to the district finals.
As for ECC, the loss concluded a season that saw the Crusaders finished strong after finding themselves well under .500 near the midway point of the year.
“This is always a good match, and the
The turning point in the game was the penalty kick obviously,” said ECC coach TJ Weaver. “I’m pleased with my kids and proud of them. They all should hold their heads high. We gave Brockway the best three matches this season that I’ve seen in the records. I wish Brockway luck (in finals).
“Halfway through the season we were 3-7, so to fight back to .500 and play to the semifinals, which we’ve played in the last four years, was a great accomplishment for these guys. I’m proud of my seniors. They are a good group and going to be missed. Now, we just have to get ready for next year.”