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Mars knocks out South Fayette, 3-1, to reach WPIAL final for the first time since 2016

Photo courtesy Rob Eldridge twitter

Mars knocks out South Fayette, 3-1, to reach WPIAL final for the first time since 2016

WPIAL Boys Soccer Class 3A Semifinal

FINAL: Mars 3, South Fayette 1

In the WPIAL Boys Class 3A semifinal, Mars stayed undefeated beating South Fayette 3-1. Dane Beller scored a brace along with a penalty kick goal from Tyler Nymberg to push Mars into the final.

By advancing to its first WPIAL final since 2016, Mars, under the direction of longtime coach, Chris Knauff, who’s won more than 220 games since being at the helm since 2007 will have to face the two-time defending champions, Franklin Regional, who beat West Allegheny, 2-1, in overtime.

HOW IT HAPPENED 

It did not take long for Mars to score. Only 26 seconds in and Nicholas Porter headed in a cross from Dane Beller. The parents and fans of the Mars players went wild as South Fayette was silenced early on.

However, the rest of the first half was fairly quiet. Mars probably had the edge in possession. A lot of fouls called as Mars committed seven and South Fayette had six. Mars did a great job defending as the Lions tried to play in behind with the long ball, and it didn’t work once.

Ten minutes into the second half, Mars was rewarded a controversial penalty kick.

South Fayette’s Brent Goldstrom, couldn’t get out of the way of a hard Mars shot into the box, as the ball made contact with his hand.

The Lions were hoping that the unwritten rules in soccer, like there are for every sport, would work to their advantage in this situation.  In this scenario, a player is in the box blocks a shot which happens to hit his hand when directly at his side, it’s not likely to be called.

It didn’t happen — as the officials went with the textbook call that contact with Goldstrom’s hand made him bigger.

Sure enough, Mars took advantage as Tyler Nymberg sniped his shot top left for the 2-0 lead.

After going down 2-0, Rob Eldridge knew his team needed to push up and go all out on offense.

The veteran coach moved Ethan Sanders from center back up to forward. Five minutes later, Sanders was brought down in the Mars’ box, but the contact wasn’t not called against Mars.

“Ethan is 185 pounds. He’s not going to go down easy,” Rob Eldridge said after the match.

A few moments later, with South Fayette continuing to push for a goal that could shift momentum, another apparent ball into the box may have hit off a Mars defender’s hand in the box.

Another non-call by the officiating crew brought out additional frustration from South Fayette’s bench and fans that were in attendance resulting in a yellow card.

“There has to be a makeup call there,” Eldridge later said.

In the 64th minute, the Lions almost pulled off a deceptive free kick play when Colton Lutz took the kick, passed it to Sanders who flicked it on to Chad Eldridge.

Eldridge almost scored but Mars’ keeper Jake Gareis made a terrific stop to keep the clean sheet.

Later, Nymberg almost scored another as he diced through a few defenders and rang a shot off the post past the goalie Austin Rees. This would have been dagger Mars needed to put the match away.

Still, South Fayette stayed alive.

In the 77th minute they earned another corner kick.

Dan Gormley’s service connected with Eldridge, who, with his great height, jumped up and headed it in with authority.

With just three minutes remaining in the match and with some new found momentum, South Fayette players immediately rushed to the net to grab the ball and bring it back to center field.

For the next few minutes, the Lions goalie crept up into the midfield to try and keep numbers forward. Dane Beller won the ball at midfield and used his skill and speed to get by Rees and another defender to pass it into the empty net to seal the win for Mars.

In the end, it would be Mars’ All-Section players that made the difference. Dane Beller, the Section 1 Player of the Year, scored two goals, Tyler Nymberg converted the PK, Nabil Lahlou played excellent in the midfield and Trent Wick along with Ryan Pasko played shut down defense all night.

Falling behind 2-0 in the first half proved a tough mountain to climb for South Fayette. Mars hadn’t allowed a goal in the past ten games, and only allowed four all season.

The Lions, playing behind for long stretches of the match, held the shots on goal advantage (7-5), but they couldn’t create enough quality chances or could get behind the stout Mars defense.

Coming out of rugged Section 2, South Fayette went farther than expected as Class 3A’s #13 seed. Beating a #4 Plum and #12 Montour along the way. Chad Eldridge (4G – 1A) and Dan Gormley (3G – 2A) produced all their offense.

On his senior players, Eldridge said “They cared a lot about each other. They wished the best for each other and enjoyed the success along the way. They won a lot of big games and understood tradition doesn’t stand in the shadow of championships; it stands alone with the work they put into building it.”

Mars will now be bracing for a showdown of the Class 3A’s top two seeds.

The Planets last won the title in back-to-back years in 2008 and 2009. They’ll face another school, Franklin Regional, who are looking to become the first three-peat champion on the boys side since 1991-93 (Quaker Valley).

Franklin Regional who have lost just one match against Class 3A competition (vs Plum on September 30) in the past three years.

 

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