BY JEFF FALK
HERSHEY – For the last month, the Elco boys’ soccer team has been tight-rope walking along an emotional ledge. Last night, the Raiders lost their balance, fell off the cliff and discovered just how deep that chasm on the other side really was.
On Monday evening at Hersheypark Stadium, in the semifinal round of the District Three Class AA postseason, the Raiders laid an emotional egg and endured their worst loss of the year, a 5-0 setback at the hands of Gettysburg. While Elco certainly wasn’t on top of its game, the performance of the fast, skilled and technically sound Warriors left observers wondering if that really mattered.
Using a precise short passing game and one-v-one dribbling skills, Gettysburg owned the midfield and possessed the ball for long periods of time in the Raiders’ defensive zone. Gettysburg enjoyed a 2-0 intermission advantage courtesy of two goals less than two minutes apart late in the first half, then added a third score with 16 minutes remaining to put the outcome out of reach.
After having won nine of ten matches – including three overtime playoff victories – the loss dropped 15th-seeded Elco to 14-7-1 overall and into Saturday’s third-place game versus top-seeded Lancaster Mennonite, which dropped a 1-1 (5-4 PKs) to Fleetwood. That match, whose site and time has yet to be announced, will determine District Three’s third and final representative in the PIAA Class AA playoffs.
The third-seeded Warriors, who improved to 17-4, will take on Fleetwood on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., back at Hersheypark Stadium, for the District Three title.
“No, I didn’t see that coming either,” said Elco head coach Kirk Keppley. “We just struggled from start to finish. I don’t know what to say. They handed it to us. I don’t know if they (the Warriors) were more ready to play. or what.
“We gave up five goals against Mennonite (earlier in the season), but we scored one,” added Keppley. “It was definitely not a good time to have our worst loss of the year. Now we’ve got to get everyone refocused and positive.”
Though the Warriors were buzzing around the Elco net from the opening tap, the Raiders’ bend-but-don’t-break defense held up until 6:20 of the first half remained.
That’s when that Gettysburg pressure paid off in the form of Drew Riggle sending teammate Drew Wivell in on Elco keeper Noah Kline. Wivell drew Kline to him and then chipped a left-footer over him.
Gettysburg also netted their second goal from the left side of the field, 1:40 later. Jonah Waldkoenig collected a Zach Shoemaker throw and whistled a 30-yard left-footer that beat Kline just under the crossbar.
“As soon as he (Waldkoenig) hit it, (Raider assistant coach) John Mentzer said, ‘It’s in’,” said Keppley. “I don’t think Nate saw it until late. It was reaction at the last second. It was well-struck. If we could’ve held it to 1-0 at halftime, it would’ve given us a lift.
“They’re (the Warriors) very good,” continued Keppley. “Their speed was a mission for us. They played well. They moved the ball well. It was more a credit to them. They definitely outplayed us. We looked tired. We looked out of sorts, but they caused it.”
Elco managed seven shots on the evening and two of them came on the same play, eight minutes into the second half. After senior Austin Smith clanged a 30-yard laser off the crossbar, sophomore Justin Kimmet followed up the shot and put the rebound on net, but Warrior goalie Michael Heaton was there.
Fifteen minutes later, Gettysburg recorded the goal that broke the Raiders’ back. Wivell’s initial attempt from the right side was knocked down by the Elco defense, but Adam Yingling corralled the loose ball and pounded it into the Raider net from in close.
“Here, we didn’t defend well and we didn’t create a lot of chances,” said Keppley. “Austin’s shot, that was a rip. But other than that, we didn’t generate any chances.
“I think they (the Warriors) took advantage of their momentum,” Keppley continued. “We struggled after their third goal. When they got that one, you could see it wasn’t going to happen. Then there was a letdown.”
Gettysburg didn’t relent and netted a pair of exclamation-point goals in a span of 50 seconds, with less than six minutes to play. Using his right foot from a tough angle, Riggle ripped a Connor Weikert feed off the far post and in, then Yingling scored unassisted from a scramble in the Elco goal mouth.
“I didn’t see them play, but we had scouted them,” said Keppley of the Warriors. “The game that was seen, they lost and the person who scouted them said they were outplayed. We knew they had speed. Maybe we sat back too much in the first half.
“If we want our season to continue, we’ve got to play and come out harder than that,” Keppley added. “We’ll see if we can rebound. Lately, we haven’t had to rebound off of anything.”
While the Raiders didn’t record their first shot on goal until 32 minutes of the first half had elapsed, Gettysburg finished with 15 shots. The Warriors also won the corner kick battle, 7-1.
Elco Boys’ Soccer History
Lancaster-Lebanon, Section Champions – 1970, 72, 73, 75, 77, 78, 79, 80, 83, 84, 85, 86, 90, 92, 94, 97
99, 2000, 01, 03
Lancaster-Lebanon League Champions – 1962, 63, 64, 65, 66, 68, 69, 72, 73, 77, 79, 83, 84
District 3 Champions – 1964, 68, 77, 90, 98, 99, 02, 03
PIAA State Champions – 1977, 79, 86, 98, 2003