WPIAL Boys Class 4A Championship Game
FINAL: Norwin 1, North Allegheny 1 (Norwin wins 5-3 in Penalty Kick Shootout)
When the WPIAL Class 4A brackets were announced on October 18, many members of Norwin’s boys soccer team felt immediate disrespect when they were seeded eighth, and last, in the 8-team bracket.
After sending shockwaves with its opening round playoff upset of top-seeded defending PIAA champions and unbeaten Seneca Valley and semifinal win versus a very talented Fox Chapel side, Norwin defied the odds to complete their quest in conquering the WPIAL Boys Class 4A field by pulling off a dramatic win in the Championship match, defeating North Allegheny, in a contest decided by a penalty kick shootout.
After 110 minutes, the match ended in a 1-1 deadlock, setting the stage for a dramatic shootout.
For a group that’s already met mountains of resistance, having to play the semifinal and championship matches without its long-time head coach Scott Schuchert, who was serving a two-game suspension for red card infraction, Norwin boys showed no quit, and plenty of determination.
The Knights won a dramatic penalty kick shootout, 5-3, as George Bunovich sent the fifth and game-clinching penalty kick past North Allegheny’s brilliant keeper, Dante Accamando.
It was Norwin’s first-ever boys soccer district title.
“It’s the heart these guys showed, and willingness to execute what the coaches wanted,” Interim Head Coach Carter Breen said. “We came out flying in the second half. In my opinion, we wanted to win, and they (North Allegheny) didn’t want to lose.”
North Allegheny completed a remarkable turnaround season under the direction of second-year Head Coach Manny Montero, finishing a very close second in the Section 1 gauntlet to Seneca Valley, and were seven minutes short of winning the school’s first title since 2017.
“That’s soccer,” Montero said. “In the end, we could not convert on some chances. Credit to Norwin for creating havoc.”
HOW IT HAPPENED
North Allegheny started the match doing what they’ve done so well all season, getting its speedy attackers out on the width, beating defenders around the edges and putting pressure on goal early in the match.
In the 12th minute, the Tigers capitalized on the early momentum, when senior forward Luke Brady won a foot race to a bounced ball over to the left side of the box. Turning on the jets to get to the ball, Brady narrowly beat a pair of Norwin defenders to the ball, and in one motion sent a one-time laser that flew over the head of GK Anthony Scalise, who couldn’t get his hands up quickly enough to make the stop. The ball scraped off the crossbar, then down past the goal line to give North Allegheny a 1-0 lead.
North Allegheny remained on the front foot for large portions of the first half, primarily neutralizing Norwin’s high press. The Tigers kept knocking on the door to go up by two goals. Juniors Nathan Katari and Nick Denysenko continued to spark the attack and create numerous dangerous moments, keeping Norwin on their heels.
In the 29th minute, Zach Nash had room just inside left edge, and fires a hard lining shot that forces Norwin keeper Anthony Scaliese to dive and punch away.
“We had some really good moments and some good opportunities,” North Allegheny coach Manny Montero said.
“When you have those moments, you have to put them away.”
Despite being on their heels, Norwin fought, scrambled and remained resolute in defending as a unit, much like they did in previous rounds in matches against Seneca Valley and Fox Chapel, where they gave up a lot of possession, but picked their moments to get forward.
“It was obviously not in the plan, but we weren’t going to panic,” Breen said.
The closest the Knights came in the first half, All-State/All-WPIAL midfielder Owen Christopher bent a nice, right-footed free kick from 25 yards that barely went over the bar.
Getting to halftime with a one-goal deficit provided the Knights with a chance to recollect themselves, and hit the reset button in a first 40 minutes where they were outshot 12-4, with goalkeeper Anthony Scalise forced into making six saves.
“We changed a few things at halftime, tactically. Spreading out midfielders wide, as they were attacking our wide points, and we were making it easy on them,” Breen explained.
“We tweaked a few things, and you saw, that didn’t happen any more.”
Early in the second half, there was slight shift in the tempo of the match, with Norwin starting to cut-off North Allegheny’s channels, primarily on the width, the Knights starting to exercise more patience on the ball, and develop build-up play through the middle of the field, which is something they didn’t do much of against Fox Chapel or in the first half against North Allegheny.
With Norwin getting more time on the ball, North Allegheny’s defensive shape started to become compromised as the match continued into the late stages, but the Tigers’ didn’t bunker by any means,
And suddenly, as the second half wore on, the match turned into a pretty-fun-to-watch, open-ended affair.
Most of what North Allegheny was left to settle for for the remainder of the match were contested and blocked shots and five corner kicks.
Case in point, in the 70th minute, NA’s best chance to double the lead in the second half, came off Katari’s foot, but it was a low percentage shot from distance which sailed a little bit to the right of the post.
With North Allegheny unable to put the game away for good, Norwin continued to push for the equalizer, finally earning its second corner kick of the game in the 73rd minute.
George Bunovich lined up on the ball, with his service aimed right for the center of a crowded box.
That’s when Daniel Maddock rose up, then sent a redirected header past the outstretched hands of Accamando.
“It’s crazy, we’ve been going over and over that corner in practice,” Maddock said. “We get it just past the front post, and George (Bunovich) played a perfect ball there.”
The goal was a result of persistence and a lot of hard work on Norwin’s part.
“He’s a dog in the box,” Breen said. “The fact that we spend nearly half of our practices on set pieces, and the fact that we could convert one, after all that hard work, in practice, after practices, in the season and in the off season, is a tribute to the attitude and mentality that we have as a team.”
If the shift in energy and momentum wasn’t already noticeably tilted toward Norwin before the goal, it clearly swung following the equalizer.
“You saw it, we had that second half under wrap,” Breen boasted. “So, when we got that goal in, it was amazing. I knew we were going to come away with it.”
The match, however, couldn’t be decided after 80 minutes of regulation.
“We knew we had to keep working, give it our all,” Maddock said. “The last minutes would be over quick, so we had to keep it up.”
North Allegheny had been in this predicament numerous times this season, playing four matches that went to extra time, posting a 1-0-3 record in the regular season matches.
“We’d been in that position before,” Montero said, that reminded his players to keep pushing forward. “That’s the thing about going through the regular season, there’s no weeks off. The short turn(arounds) in the regular season are little bit hard. (By the time) we got to the playoffs, we’re battle-tested. We’ve played overtimes. We were calm. That’s exactly what I told them. We’ve been here before.”
When extra time began, Norwin really started to bring the pressure. In the 83rd minute, Christopher sent an absolute, no-doubt-about-it rocket from about 20 yards out that forced a brilliant quick reaction save from Accamando to deny a golden goal.
A lot of the hard work that went back to the off season and preseason training, really paid off for Norwin in the extra time period, as they appeared to be growing stronger as fitness wasn’t an issue.
“That’s the secret recipe,” Breen said. “We take a lot of passion in that, putting in the work, the time, Running hills.”
A wild sequence followed for the Knights on the attack when Maddock sent a dangerous ball through the goal box from the right end line that wasn’t touched, but Luke Halberg collected it on the other side, and quickly sent another ball across but also went untouched, barely missing the inside of right post.
In the 92nd minute, Norwin quick cross from right to far post saw Halberg and Accamando collide at the far post as ball flew though — barely getting past both combatants.
In the second period of extra time, more pressure came from Norwin, and to his credit, Accamando kept turning them back, and made his biggest save of the night in the 103rd minute, diving to his right to deny Christopher’s free kick attempt that was heading inside the left post area.
— John Krysinsky (@JohnKrysinsky) November 5, 2023
Honored as an all-State and all-WPIAL selection, Accamando ended up making 10 saves in the run of play in the match.
“He’s at a point where that’s what’s expected,” Montero said. “When he doesn’t have a performance like that, it becomes out of character for him, as he’s set the bar so high for himself. We wouldn’t have had the record we did throughout the regular season without him making the saves he’s made for us.”
In a match where North Allegheny threw the early haymakers and leaned on Accamando’s heroics late, and Norwin kept coming harder and harder to the final whistle at the 110 minute mark, things would have to be decided by what most players and coaches dread — a shootout of spot kicks.
North Allegheny had penalty kicks converted from Lucas Henderson, Noah Hutter and Arnav Patel.
It was Katari’s shot — in the third round — which was stopped by Scalise.
Norwin scored on every penalty kick chance, with goals from Owen Christopher, Alex Brown, Daniel Maddock, Chase Molinaro and. capped off in the beginning of the fifth round by George Bunovich.
As Bunovich’s shot hit the net, it sent off a joyous celebration for Norwin, who earned its first-ever boys soccer title for a school that has had many successful soccer teams and players come before this group.
In midst of the celebration, Breen, who played his four years of soccer for Schuchert at Norwin, couldn’t help but think of the one person who put more into the success of the program, but couldn’t be there.
“It’s all Scotty,” Breen exclaimed. “He works 24/7 for these guys. No one works harder. Has the passion for the community. For these kids. Being a player for him growing up, he taught me so many life lessons I can’t even describe. How he works so hard, day in and day out. Obviously we made history here tonight, as the first team in Norwin (boys soccer) history, and all the props go to Scotty and all the coaches. It feels so good to come away with the win.”
Beyond the fitness, skills, tactics and intensity for which Norwin’s players exhibited in this unprecedented WPIAL title run, they never stopped believing.
“Every season’s going to have its ups and downs, but we knew what we were capable of, and we never had any doubt in anyone’s minds that we could do it,” Christopher said.
“You can’t describe this feeling. It’s awesome.”