PITTSBURGH — The third time was the charm for the Bentworth boys’ soccer team against the Washington County counterparts who had beaten them twice in section play, though it certainly didn’t appear that way for the first hour of Friday night’s WPIAL Boys’ Class 1A Final.
But the race to become the first team from 1A-Sec. 2 to win its first WPIAL championship proved to be more marathon than sprint when regular-season wunderkind Ryan Moessner pulled one back, unheralded defenseman Andrew Vipperman equalized, and all-district senior forward Ryan Colbert finished in the 92nd minute to give the Bearcats (18-2) a 3-2 victory over Charleroi in the first period of extra time at Highmark Stadium.
“Honestly, I was surprised. Once I scored, I started rushing straight to my team,” Colbert said of the golden goal. “I didn’t even care about scoring. I just wanted to celebrate with my team.
“You’ve got to celebrate a win like that.”
The Cougars (19-1), under the guidance of Western Pennsylvania Soccer Coaches Association Coach of the Year Jon Ducoli, had only conceded nine times all year. Bentworth, the top scoring team in the entire district with 119 goals entering the weekend, would not be denied in its quest to knock off the top three teams in the Boys 1A tournament as the No. 7 seed.
“Our motto all year has been, ‘Win a half.’ Win a half of soccer,” first-year Bentworth head coach and former assistant coach Nick Malarbi said. “It’s amazing. Especially to be able to do it at my alma mater, it’s amazing.”
Another All-WPIAL selection at forward, Charleroi senior Arlo McIntyre, drew a penalty in the 11th minute that was discussed, and ultimately upheld, by officials after being grabbed from behind and going down inside the 18-yard box. McIntyre stutter-stepped and tucked his shot into the bottom left corner, beneath a diving Diontae Hays.
In the 37th minute, Landon Barcus connected with senior midfielder Bryce Large, the newly anointed Section Player of the Year and all-district honoree, deep on the right wing. Large made his defender go down while fighting for possession, which created an opening for sophomore midfielder Dylan Klinger. When Klinger, from right beside the penalty spot, easily tapped Large’s cross into the exposed net, Charleroi was in control.
The Cougars spent 62% of their first-half possession inside the attacking half, registering 14 shots, and five on target, to Bentworth’s four. Furthermore, defenseman and senior captain Jake Chambers was ubiquitous for the Cougars, negating most serious threats the Bearcats made before the intermission.
“In the locker room, at halftime, our coaches decided to make some adjustments,” freshman defender Dillan Colbert said. “We started the second half with four people in the back, then we changed to three, and that helped us a lot when we got that first goal.
“With eight minutes left, our coaches decided to put me up top to take away one of their best defenders, to open up that area. When I did that, it led to the second goal.”
The tide turned when Hays made a diving stop to his right on McIntyre, looking for the knockout punch, from just 12 yards out in the 55th minute, one of the former’s six saves on the night. Moments after a Moessner corner kick at the flag to the left of Charleroi goalkeeper Nate Mazon was thwarted, John Scott made a clever back-heeled pass from the top of the box that found the sophomore.
Moessner, the Bearcats’ regular season scoring leader with 26 goals, wasted no time knocking the ball inside the right post to give Bentworth a lifeline on the 64′ mark.
The Cougar midfield took a hit when starter Ethan Hartley was issued a yellow card for a reckless challenge in the 66th minute. He returned in time to see their lead evaporate.
Ryan Colbert, who finished with four shots and three on target to co-lead the team with Moessner, finally broke the Cougars’ bending back line. After making a number of diligent runs throughout the evening, Colbert found space deep on the left wing to cross for Vipperman at the far post. The airborne junior nodded the ball home to level for Bentworth in the 76th minute.
“It felt really good,” a grinning Vipperman said. “We’ve run that play in practice, again, and again, and again. It finally worked. We just see how the other team lines up and go from there.”
Charleroi caught a break early in the extra session when Moessner, all alone on Mazon’s doorstep, accepted a ball from the right but chipped it above the yawning goal. The Bearcats, nevertheless, would create their own fortune when Dillan Colbert outworked his man for a loose ball inside the 18, then snuck it ahead to Ryan Colbert, who roofed it behind Mazon to cap his team’s historic rally.
“It just kind of popped right out in front of me,” said Ryan Colbert, “and the next thing I know, it’s in the back of the net.”
Bentworth outshot Charleroi 13-6 after halftime, including 8-1 in extra time, and evened their possession numbers to a precise 50-50 split.
“I just think we had more gas in the tank. We put everything out there, really,” Vipperman said.
In addition, the Bearcats limited Large and McIntyre, two of the most dangerous scorers in Class 1A, to a combined one goal, one assist, three fouls and five shots on target, inasmuch as the Charleroi duo’s 12 combined shots taken were as many as the entire Bentworth side put on frame.
“Bryce had a great game. He had me worried. He had four or five shots outside the box that were traveling, that D.J. (Hays) had to palm away,” Malarbi said. “As for Arlo, kudos to Dillan Colbert. He’s a great kid. He’s a kid who came in, and I said, I don’t know where I’m going to put him. He learned how to play center back with Andrew back there, and he stepped on those heels all night.”
Charleroi, the two-time WPIAL runner-up, will face District VI champion Richland in the first round of the state playoffs Tuesday, while Bentworth concurrently meets District X champion Seneca High School.