HERSHEY – There was a time – not all that long ago – when the Elco boys’ soccer team qualifying for the District Three Class AA postseason was a given. The only questions surrounding the annual trip were how extended the Raiders’ run was going to be and whether or not it would end in some sort of championship.
So is this new generation of Raiders revisiting the past? Or resurrecting it?
On Thursday night at Hersheypark Stadium, in the quarterfinal round of the District Three Class AA playoffs, Elco conjured up sweet memories of its most storied past with a moving 2-1 overtime triumph over Pequea Valley. Sophomore Justin Kimmet starred in the role of hero for the Raiders, using his head to convert a precise feed from Austin Smith into the game-winner, a mere 1:48 into ‘bonus soccer’.
After floundering around the .500 mark for most of the fall, and in danger of missing its fourth consecutive District Three postseason, Elco has now won nine of its last ten matches, including three straight in overtime. Up next for the 15th-seeded Raiders, now 14-6-1, is a Monday semifinal date with third-seeded Gettysburg, which nudged West York 1-0, at a time and site to be announced.
With three Class AA squads representing District Three in the PIAA tournament, last night’s victory also assured the Raiders at least two more games this season. Pequea Valley, the tenth-seed which had split two Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three meetings with Elco this fall – falling 2-1 in Myerstown on September 26 and prevailing 3-2 in Kinzers on September 5 – ended its year 13-7-1.
While the match was the hotly-contested, tightly-marked, evenly played defensive affair most observers projected, the Raiders did generate more attack as the contest wore on, and that fact played at least some small part in Kimmet’s game-winner.
“I think these kids wanted it bad enough,” said Elco’s third-year head coach, Kirk Keppley of his program’s resurgence. “Some changes have made all the difference. When we were .500, we told the boys ‘We’re going back to Elco kick butt soccer’. And they’ve responded. They’re hard-nosed kids, and that’s the way they want to play.
Kimmet’s decisive tally originated from the center midfield, where Zach Swonger sent ahead teammate Austin Smith down the right sideline. Smith sent a long cross to the other side of the Brave goal, where all that was left for an unmarked Kimmet do was head it inside the left post.
It was the first and only shot of the extra session.
“Swonger picked the ball up in the middle of the field and saw Austin outside isolated,” said Keppley. “Austin is Austin, and he knows what to do with the ball, when to shoot and when to pass. He played a heck of a ball past the goalkeeper to Justin Kimmet on the other side of the goal, and Justin headed it in. It was a beautiful goal.
“Justin Kimmet has had an incredible second half of the season,” Keppley continued. “In the section, he scored in six of our last seven games. He has had a drought the last two games, but he came up with a big one tonight.”
Two minutes and seven seconds after going down a goal, Smith evened the Raiders’ slate at one-apiece, with a terrific individual effort, 14:54 ahead of halftime. Smith collected a loose ball in the middle of the Braves’ attack zone, took one touch but didn’t settle the ball, and ripped a 25-yard right-footer into the lower right-hand corner of the net.
“He’s a very skilled player,” said Keppley of Smith. “He leads by example. And he doesn’t back down from anything.
“I thought in the first half we were lethargic,” added Keppley. “It was like: ‘We played Monday night, we got this!’. But they (his players) didn’t play like they played Monday night (in a win over number-two seed Susquehannock).”
The ball was switched from one side of the Raider net to the other, apparently deflecting off Elco defenders at times, before rolling past keeper Noah Kline. The score was not ruled an ‘own goal’, as Pequea Valley’s Corey Melasecca received credit for the tally.
“I don’t want to say it was a weak goal, but we were unorganized,” said Keppley of the Braves’ tally. “The last couple of years, they’ve (the Braves) been very strong. We’ve been working our way back into things. We split with them during the season. We knew it was going to be a battle.
As the clock wound down on a scoreless second half, the intensity of Elco’s attack on keeper Owen Geedey and the Brave net picked up.
Sent in alone on Geedey 19:06 into the second stanza, Davis had three chances to extricate the ball from the sprawled goalie, but couldn’t. Then with 5:40 of the second half remaining, Geedey simply robbed Smith on a point-blank header created from a Swonger corner kick.
Finally, with 3:46 go in regulation, Kimmet unleashed a solid left-footer from the left side of the box that Geedey calmly swiped over the crossbar.
“They’re killing me,” said Keppley of his charges. “That’s three overtime games in-a-row. It’s draining, but it doesn’t matter because when you wake up the next day and you’re energized again. They are playing so well. It’s like I’m just along for the ride.”
According to the final stats, Elco took 11 shots to Pequea Valley’s nine. The Raiders enjoyed an even slighter of 6-5 edges in corner kicks.
CLASS AA QUARTERFINALS
Lancaster Mennonite vs. Wyomissing – Lancaster Mennonite 2-1
West Perry vs. Fleetwood – Fleetwood 1-0
ELCO vs. Pequea Valley – ELCO 2-1 (OT)
Gettysburg vs. West York – Gettysburg 1-0