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Year of the Deer: Lancers Capture Elusive 2A Boys Title in Heart-Stopping Shootout

File Photo courtesy of Justin Berl
WPIAL Boys Class 2A Final

FINAL: Deer Lakes 1, Shady Side Academy 1 (Deer Lakes wins 3-2 on penalty kicks) 


A climactic showdown between two likely rivals from northern suburbia, wrought with unlikely turns of fate, culminated in a sixth-round goal by Ruger Beer and an incredible, though superfluous, double-save by fellow sophomore Nick Braun to give Deer Lakes a 4-3 win on penalties over Section 2 counterpart Shady Side Academy after a 1-1 scoreline through extra time at North Allegheny High School’s Newman Stadium Thursday night.

Braun and his mates found level pegging, following a well-timed, well-placed deflection by Sam Farner, in the form of a goal by all-state senior co-captain Michael Sullivan.

Sullivan briefly put his side ahead in the shootout prior to a rising shot by Beer past an outstretched Bruce David.

Owen Martens needed to score to keep Shady Side Academy alive, and he got a second chance to do so thanks to a curious call by the presiding referee, who had not yet blown his whistle to signal the attempt. Only then did Braun, continuing to play beyond his years, make the point moot and trigger a second celebration on the far sideline.

Having seen the Indians (14-2) capture their sectional crown from 2019, the 2020 Lancers (14-1) one-upped the 2017-18 district champs by grabbing their first WPIAL gold medals in team history, concurrently advancing to the PIAA Class 2A boys’ soccer tournament.


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If you ask Deer Lakes head coach Dan Yates, it happened, in large part, due to the incredible poise displayed by his keeper.

“I’m over the moon, and it’s all because of this kid here,” Yates exclaimed afterward, wrapping Braun in a jovial headlock. “He’s where it was at tonight. Absolutely super.

“He started every game last year, as a freshman. He’s been, head and shoulders, a main reason why we’re where we are. He gets some crap in training…but we’ve always got his back. We’ve always, always got his back.”

This rang especially true after the 58th minute, when Braun, trying to casually play the ball off his line, lost sight of Sam Farner. The junior midfielder deflected the clearing attempt off his head, high in the air, and just inside the far post on a bounce, for a 1-0 advantage to Shady Side.

Sullivan’s eventual season-saving strike afforded Braun the opportunity to deny Joey Anania in the opening round of penalty kicks, jumping and reaching up to his left. Fortune smiled when Farner banged his subsequent try off the bar.

“After their goalie saved [our] first one, I knew it was going to be a long shootout, because we’re both good goalies and both know how to take PK’s, and how to go about them,” said Braun. “We would just have to rely on my shooters, knowing how good that goalie was. I just tried to step up and help my team.”

Furthermore, Braun spared Deer Lakes the staggering responsibility of the chasing the game by sliding to his right to catch Farner’s first penalty of the match, in the 12th minute. The first half remained scoreless despite the preceding foul on Anania by Colton Spence inside the right edge of the box.

“In the regular season, I faced that same shooter, and he went that way,” Braun said, recalling the teams’ Sept. 24 confrontation that ended in a 2-1 result for Shady Side. “I watched film on him against Burrell, and I knew he was going to go that way.”

The Lancers came agonizingly close to drawing first blood in the 36th, when Sullivan centered a ball for Devin Murray from the left wing. David anticipated the redirection perfectly near the top of his 18-yard box.

Shady Side Academy head coach Ed Ellsworth, known for rotating his keepers, saw Sullivan get the best of Zach Conti in the 73rd minute. The decorated midfielder created space at the upper left corner of the box and fired a low laser into the bottom right corner of the net, past the prone senior, courtesy of a perfect Ryan Rodgers cross from the right side.

It was another big goal for Sullivan in a big spot against a familiar foe, as his brace decided the Oct. 14 affair at Deer Lakes High School that kept Shady Side from wrapping up the section at the time.

“The secret is just the boys around me giving me the ball, making sure we don’t concede, and making sure we work the ball around,” Sullivan said. “I give it to Shady Side, they came out and outplayed us today. They really did. But sometimes you’ve got to have the ball bounce your way a few times. Today was one of those days.”

“We never say die. We’ve got that spirit, whether we’re 6- or 10-nil down, we’ll still go. Tonight, we were one-nil down, we changed the system a bit. We scored, we reverted back to what we know, and we hung on through the overtime,” said Yates.

Deer Lakes nearly did get a bounce toward the end of the second extra session, when a Sullivan throw-in on 108 minutes eventually bounded off a Shady Side head and forced David to go airborne to keep the game tied. However, grade-A chances for both schools were scarce until penalties.

Sullivan, Rodgers and Spence cashed in for the Lancers, and Drew McKim, Gunnar Pipitone and Caleb Massie answered for the Indians.

This left Beer, a less experienced shooter, to face David, who famously stopped three penalties in a row for back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2018, with this year’s championship on the line.

“It was crazy. I was just so nervous, my heart was in my shoes. I was like, if I miss it, I miss it, if I make it, we win,” Beer shrugged, beside himself. “I don’t take penalties often, so I just shot it where I thought he wouldn’t go.

“We worked as hard as we could, and we just kept going. We never quit.”

“The difference this year was the work ethic,” Sullivan agreed, reflecting upon the team’s runner-up status in 2019. “We sacrificed every day. We couldn’t hang out with people. We put ourselves all on online school, for the team, so we wouldn’t risk having a [COVID-19] case. The commitment from these boys is top-notch, and I wouldn’t trade any one of them for the world.”

It wasn’t until the moments after his second stop of Martens, however, that Braun felt the weight of the world leave his modest shoulders.

“He’s on my [club] team, so I knew who he was, and he doesn’t take pens for us. I don’t think he’s ever taken a pen. But he’s right-footed, and when you’re right-footed, you usually shoot to the left,” Braun explained. “You get more power that way, and that’s why I went that way.

“I didn’t think we’d won, because the ref told me and the other goalie, we’re going five [rounds] more, everyone goes, then it’s sudden death. So I had no idea I’d won. That’s why, when the team came out, I was yelling, ‘We didn’t win! We didn’t win!’ That’s why I didn’t have that much emotion after we won.”

Once assured his repeat save had overridden the madness, he and his teammates let it all hang out after adding a rare trophy to the school’s case–but also keeping their eyes trained on another.

“It’s so surreal,” was all Beer could muster, letting out an exhausted, but exuberant, breath.

“It’s amazing…we persevered through all of it,” said Braun, shaking his head in disbelief.

“For this community, it’s amazing. Just taking notice of how many people were in their stands, and how many people were in ours,” said Sullivan. “For a small 2A school out in the sticks, for the community to come together like that, that’s awesome.”

“When I interviewed with the athletic director, Chuck [Bellisario], I told him we were going to win WPIALs. We were close last year. I told the boys, we either win this, or it’s a bad season for us,” said Yates.

“Now we’re going to go to states, and we’re going to win that.”

Gameday Updates

We’ll provide updates here once the game kicks off.

Our coverage team will include Matt Popchock (reporting) and Justin Berl (photography).

Look for the game recap, postgame reaction & photo gallery here after the match.

5:15 p.m. – No live national anthem, but the recording of Whitney Houston’s Super Bowl XXV rendition is still a banger.

5:21 p.m. – Game on!

Something’s got to give, but what will it be? The Deer Lakes and Shady Side senior classes are 4-4-2 against each other in their last ten meetings.

5′ – A couple early set pieces for Deer Lakes, but stout defense by SSA. 0-0

10′ – Joey Anania gets a free kick from a dangerous spot, a little beyond the far edge of the 18-yard box, but the Lancers’ wall does its duty, and keeper Nick Braun gathers the loose ball. 0-0

12′ – Penalty kick save! Braun denies Sam Farner, diving to his right and catching the ball after Anania was dragged down by Colton Spence just inside the box on the right wing. 0-0

17′ – Drew McKim, deep inside the box, redirects a long, indirect free kick…off the right post! Braun, and now, the woodwork, are keeping Shady Side from drawing first blood. 0-0

22′ – Devin Murray with a nice ball down the left wing for the Lancers’ Ronan Renter draws Bruce David out of goal to knock it away. The resulting corner kick, from the near side, is ultimately cleared by the Indians. 0-0

24′ – Ryan Rodgers didn’t miss by much for DL! His 13-yard rip just goes wide of the left post. 0-0

27′ – A dangerous play in front of the Shady Side goal on an indirect Deer Lakes free kick from roughly 50 yards away on the left side. But all appear well, including David, who got some serious air–and maybe a bump or bruise, here or there–to knock it away. 0-0

36′ – Wow…a Michael Sullivan shot-pass finds Devin Murray right on David’s doorstep, but the Shady Side keeper read it perfectly and gobbles up the ball. 0-0

40′ – Not for nothing, halftime ends up goalless between the Lancers and Indians here at Newman Stadium. Sullivan, whose brace won the last match between these sides, nearly set up a late goal for DL, and SSA was denied by Braun (on a penalty), and later, the post, earlier in the half. 0-0

43′ – SSA can’t seem to catch a break early in the second half. A questionable non-call benefits Deer Lakes upon egregious contact on a Shady Side attacker inside the box. Then the Indians are called offside. 0-0

45′ – Ryan Rodgers is tripped along the far sideline and earns an indirect free kick of about 35 yards. Shady Side is up to the challenge defensively and draws a foul of its own near midfield moments later. 0-0

50′ – Gunnar Pipitone and Owen Maartens team up to thwart a Deer Lakes set piece from deep on the right wing. 0-0

56′ – Farner wants that first goal badly. He sprints just ahead of a couple defenders and puts a close-range shot on goal from the left flank, but that’s an easy, kneeling save for Braun. 0-0

58′ – And Farner does get the goal! He blocks a clearing attempt by Braun that ricochets over the keeper’s head and bounces inside the far post! 1-0 to Shady Side Academy.

62′ – Correction: Farner scores in the 58th minute, not the 62nd. In the 62nd, though, Ronan Renter finds a loose ball in the middle of the box that he blasts over the head of second-half keeper Zach Conti. SSA 1-0 DL

66′ – So close, Sullivan! From the left, he rips it to the right, and Conti gets a piece of it on the dive, resulting in a DL corner kick on the press box side of the pitch. But the resulting set piece is put wide of goal. SSA 1-0 DL

71′ – Now, after missing above the bar earlier, Renter is called for an obvious offside. Let’s see if we start seeing more urgency from the Lancers’ attack as Shady Side closes in on a third WPIAL title in four years. SSA 1-0 DL

73′ – Guess who? Sullivan! Rodgers, from the right side, with a perfect cross to Michael Sullivan who blasts it past Conti from the upper-left corner of the box, and the Lancers are level! SSA 1-1 DL

80′ – Free futbol at North Allegheny, thanks to Sullivan’s late heroics! We’ll play 15 more minutes–should they all be necessary–and the next goal wins the WPIAL Boys 2A championship. SSA 1-1 DL

81′ – Deer Lakes gets the first touch of the first extra session! SSA 1-1 DL

82′ – Bruce David, back in goal for Shady Side, corrals a loose ball along the backline. SSA 1-1 DL

83′ – A through ball from the far side is just a little too far for an oncoming Farner. SSA 1-1 DL

87′ – Halfway through the first overtime, and both sides are looking for any advantage they can find. Not a lot of room out there for either, though. SSA 1-1 DL

90′ – Rodgers had some room at the top of the box, but two Shady Side defenders got right in the way, and the ball easily finds David. SSA 1-1 DL

91′ – Farner goes for goal on a direct free kick from right down the middle, 30 yards out, but the low line drive is stopped by Braun, casually moving to his left. SSA 1-1 DL

95′ – A late throw-in along the near sideline by the Indians is all for naught, and we’ll need a second overtime to decide the title! SSA 1-1 DL

96′ – Press box is vibrating, as this impressive crowd is making its presence felt. Second half of extra time is underway, with Shady Side kicking off! SSA 1-1 DL

97′ – Hazem Hamda can’t catch up to the long cross from deep on the right. Throw in for the Lancers along the far touchline. SSA 1-1 DL

102′ – A long throw-in from the far touchline by Michael Sullivan is eventually cleared by Koven Johnson. Shady Side will now make a few subs. SSA 1-1 DL

108′ – Leaping save! David just gets his fingertips on an incoming ball that seemed to deflect off an unidentifiable Shady Side head. SSA 1-1 DL

110′ – One last throw-in by Sullivan is swallowed by David right out in front. We will need penalties to decide the 2A championship! SSA 1-1 DL

PK – David will stay in to start the penalty shootout for SSA.

3-3 after five rounds so far! Hang on, folks…

WOW! Ruger Beer scores, and Owen Martens is stopped–twice!–by Nick Braun, who dives to his right to give Deer Lakes its first-ever WPIAL championship, 1-1 (4-3 PK)!

More to come from North Allegheny!

Key Storylines / Preview 

Talk about two sides that know each other all too well.  That would definitely be Deer Lakes and Shady Side.

This would either be Deer Lakes’ first ever WPIAL title or Shady Side’s third in the past four years.

The section rivals split the season series this regular season.  Deer Lakes beat Shady Side, 2-0, in our PSN Featured Game in October, returning the favor from an earlier Shady Side 2-1 win in September. These are the only two losses for each side this season against 2A competition (SSA did step up and play its Class 4A neighbors across Fox Chapel Road, Fox Chapel, losing 2-0).

Open Mike Night: Deer Lakes Keeps 2A-2 Title Hopes Alive Against Shady Side

Both teams have experience. Both have made it to the WPIAL finals in recent years. Deer Lakes made it last year, under the direction of second year coach, Dan Yates, losing to Quaker Valley in a classic that went to overtime, while under the direction of Ed Ellsworth, Shady Side won back-to-back Class 2A titles in extremely memorable and miraculous games (2017 & 2018) played at Highmark Stadium.

This year’s talented Deer Lakes team is on a mission led by it’s senior midfield trio of Michael Sullivan, Devin Murray and Colton Spence. Despite taking their boys soccer program to unprecedented success, they’d like to add a first-ever WPIAL title. In between two convincing wins (first round 7-0 vs Southmoreland and semifinal 7-1 vs Mt. Pleasant) the Lancers faced a tough challenge in the quarterfinal, as they threw everything at South Park, who withstood the Lancers attack and even put themselves in position to win, but a controversial non-handball call on a splendid South Park scoring chance put a shadow over the match. Make no mistake, Deer Lakes were more dominant for longer stretches, and eventually pulled through with a 1-0 win on Murray’s game-winner in the second-overtime.

“We have to do better in those moments when we have opportunities against a quality opponent in the final third,” DL’s Head Coach Dan Yates said.

With Sullivan stepping up when it mattered most, they did that in the regular season rematch vs Shady Side.

Ed Ellsworth’s squad always seems to save its best soccer in late October and early November, as the core group of upperclassmen on this year’s team were around for SSA’s back-to-back, miraculous WPIAL title wins vs Quaker Valley in 2017 and 2018, and now they’re making their mark.

Among the experienced Shady Side players are Zach Conti, Bruce David, midfielders Sam Farner and Joey Anania and senior forward Hazem Hamda.  Farner, a junior, was one of 15 area players to earn All-State honors. In the playoffs, SSA’s balanced attack has been too much for Hopewell, Ambridge and Elizabeth Forward as they’ve won by a combined score of 11-1.

This will be the ninth time these two sides will do battle since the 2018 season began.  And this time, it’s for all the marbles.

This classification has seen some classic battles and miraculous moments in the championship game in the past three years. Wouldn’t it be great if that trend could continue.

Can’t wait for this one to kickoff.

Photo Gallery (from SSA / Deer Lakes matches covered by PSN over the past few years) 

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Interview with Deer Lakes’ Dan Yates 


Riverhounds MF Danny Griffin

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