PITTSBURGH — As Rand Hudson, head coach of the Franklin Regional boys’ soccer team so aptly put it all season, “All it takes is one.” Technically, on this particular Saturday afternoon, it took two, but to the two-time district champions, it didn’t matter.
Despite conceding for the first time since Sept. 24, Franklin Regional (19-0-1) prevailed, 2-1, over West Allegheny (14-6-1) in the WPIAL Class 3A boys’ final match at Highmark Stadium, thanks to a second-chance goal from senior midfielder Garrett Beaver in the 76th minute.
Franklin Regional handed West A the second in a row of its three straight title game defeats. The Indians will now turn their attention to defending the PIAA gold earned by its boys’ side in 2018.
ED THOMPSON PHOTO GALLERY
HOW IT HAPPENED
The Panthers, with time ticking away in a largely defense-oriented second half, suddenly generated a flurry of chances in front of goalie Trevor Day, not long after the Indians had equalized.
Junior midfielder Luke Kimmick ripped a shot on target in haste with Day in perfect position to make the save. Beaver, unable to play in last year’s championship tilt due to injury, had no trouble smashing home Day’s rebound past the desperate keeper.
“I’m speechless. After scoring that, and to win with all my friends, it’s like…I couldn’t ask for more. It’s an experience,” said Beaver. “You saw me–I could barely run [after the goal]. It’s amazing. I’m at a loss for words.”
The same could not be said for a misty-eyed Hudson, reveling in the team success resulting from Beaver’s individual effort. It was a year ago around this time, that Beaver learned his father was fighting cancer–a battle he continues fighting today.
“A year ago, when we played here, his dad was told the cancer was back. So we had a big celebration going home, and they didn’t tell anybody, because they didn’t want to rain on our parade,” the coach explained, choking up. “He’s in a battle now, and I want him to have that, so he knows…we care about him.
“I drive over [the Fort Pitt] bridge all the time. I look down here, and I have good feelings about it. I said, ‘I’m so glad we won this time.’ They can’t drive across that bridge and be like, ‘That’s when I found out my dad had cancer’ again. We had to change it.
“I’m so happy for Garrett. I can’t believe that’s the way it went. Can’t believe it.”
Sure enough, Beaver’s parents were given the honor of putting his gold medal around his neck. West Allegheny, however, was determined to keep that storybook ending from coming to print.
Franklin Regional created bigger traffic jams than anything conceivable on the Parkway East at the top of its own box, keeping the Indians’ attack at bay until they drew a direct free kick just outside the 18.
Senior defender Caleb Miller tucked his shot over the wall and under the bar with less than ten minutes left in regulation, ending an incredible run of over 900 minutes of scoreless football by the Panthers.
They had been trying to preserve a 1-0 result for the second boys’ 3A district final in a row. Both matches saw all-everything sophomore striker Anthony DiFalco score late in the first half.
This time, Franklin Regional drew a penalty from an egregious hip check near goal, moments after hitting the crossbar, which brought their top scoring threat to the spot. With 4:48 until halftime, Day guessed right–diving to his right, and getting a piece of the ball with both hands–but DiFalco’s shot still overwhelmed him for his 30th goal of the season.
“I just blanked my mind. I didn’t really get nervous when I went up to take the pen, just like any other game” said DiFalco. “I put a little bit of power behind it, and he got fingertips to it, but I got lucky.”
To repeat as champions in any sport, any team needs a little bit of luck, but as far as the Panthers are concerned, their luck continues to be the residue of design.
“We just had to work really hard throughout the season,” DiFalco added. “West A is a really good team, and tough to beat twice in a WPIAL final. It was extremely tough this year.
“Momentum went their way after they scored, but we just had to play through it. We just stayed calm and got the goal to win.”
“We have an astounding defense, goalkeepers, midfielders, all around, and we have a great attack,” said aforementioned conquering hero Beaver. “We’re just, all around, a great team.
“Everyone on our team contributed. Everyone.”
Now Franklin Regional sets its sights on a rare treble after capturing the Section 4 crown, one draw shy of running the table, and defending its WPIAL title.
“They’re a talented, great group of kids. Everybody says that, but they’re talented, they listen and they buy in,” Hudson said.
“I told them it was going to be a battle, and it wasn’t picture-perfect, but their quality showed through. We’ll take it.”
POST-MATCH INTERVIEW: FRANKLIN REGIONAL’s GARRETT BEAVER