With frontrunners St. Marys and Port Allegany battling for the Upper Allegheny Valley Soccer League North Division championship, last Thursday’s meeting between the two teams didn’t disappoint. The Gators eked out a 2-1 victory to beat the Class AAA Dutchmen for the first time in school history – and, more importantly, take over the top spot in the division.
“We always set multi-tiered goals,” head coach Aaron Clark said. “Playoffs is always first, and then building on the playoff seed. We’ve never seriously talked about a league title. This is the first year we’ve ever made a push. Getting that lead in the league is probably bigger for us (than clinching a playoff berth), because we knew that we were going to make playoffs. That was just bound to happen. We were confident that if we kept going, we were going to get a good seed, probably a home playoff game if we keep winning. But I don’t know how many times we’re going to get a chance to win the league, so we’ve got to make a push for it now if we’re ever going to do it.”
“They hustled well. We were outhustled on the field, and that’s where the big difference was,” St. Marys coach Russ Micale said.
After playing a scoreless first 40 minutes, Port struck moments into the second half when Tyler Kittilson headed home Scott Brookens’ corner kick to give the Gators the 1-0 lead. That didn’t last long, though, with Michael Fox knocking in a loose ball for the Dutchmen a few minutes later to tie the score.
“We started picking play up there, and it seemed like we were going to turn it around,” Micale said. “We had some opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on.”
Instead, with time ticking down in the game, Brookens and running mate Sam Kysor took over. Sprinting down the left sideline, Brookens lofted a perfect cross to Kysor, who was charging up the middle of the field. The junior buried the strike for his sixth goal of the year with 15:39 remaining in the game, and the Gators reclaimed the lead.
“A lot of people think Scott is just a scorer,” Clark said of the Big 30 goals leader, “but after tonight he might be leading the team in assists now, too. He’s a playmaker not just for himself, but he’s able to really distribute well to other players. Sam Kysor’s playing the position where he’s a distributor and he doesn’t get the glory of the goals – but when he gets his chances, Sam has a beautiful shot. As far as I know, that’s his second game-winner. He won the Kane game in overtime with a shot very similar to that. Sam doesn’t get that shot off without Scott, but he, Scott, and Tyler Kittilson work very well together.”
With the score 2-1, the Dutchmen started turning up the heat, but the Gator defense held firm to close out the win.
“That was nerve-racking,” Clark admitted. “That was scary. St. Marys was able to put on a lot of pressure; they bent, but they didn’t break. I can’t say enough about Garrett Homell, Elliott Binder, Jake Baxter, and Ben Edgell working back there. A lot of teams look at us and probably see a really fast, offensive-minded team, but those four back there are gutsy. They work hard.”
Now 10-4 (8-1 UAVSL) in advance of Tuesday’s game against Coudersport, Port heads into the final part of the schedule with games against DuBois Central Catholic and Johnsonburg before an Oct. 20 rematch at St. Marys which will likely decide the division title.
But for now, the Gators are in the driver’s seat.