Owen Harkins scored two goals within a six-minute span in the first half, and Quaker Valley went on to claim its eighth WPIAL boys soccer title by defeating Shady Side Academy, 2-1, in the Class AA final Saturday afternoon at Highmark Stadium.
“We approached the season knowing that there were high expectations,” Quaker Valley coach Andrew Marshall said.
“We wanted to rise to that pressure, and the boys did that today. They put in the work all season, and they earned it today.”
After Shady Side brought forth some early pressure that included a few dangerous crosses into the box, Quaker Valley turned things around quickly. The Quakers’ attack started to cause fits for Shady Side’s back line and goalkeeper Doren Kozel.
“We had a nice first 5-6 minutes to start the game, but then we couldn’t get on the ball. They had set pieces, and (Landon) Grant was terrific on the ball,” Shady Side Academy coach Ed Ellsworth said. “We had to block a lot of shots and were forced to weather a storm for much of the first half as we really could never get going,”
Quakers forward Ian Rodgers broke into the box past Shady Side defender Daniel Palmer, who pulled him down to draw a penalty kick in the 22nd minute. Grant stepped up to take the penalty and sent a low shot to the right side, but Kozel anticipated the shot and came up with a lunging save.
Moments later, after a number of Shady Side defenders were scrambling in the box to block shots during a wild sequence — one in which Rodgers tried to get three different shot attempts — the Indians cleared the ball toward to the sideline. As he was going for the cleared ball, Shady Side leading scorer Ben Ream fouled Grant near the sideline and was issued a yellow card.
Walter Hubsch took the ensuing free kick from 50 yards, and the ball bounced as it fell into the crowded box. Harkins reacted quickly to drive a shot past Kozel and give the Quakers a 1-0 lead.
Quaker Valley kept coming into the attacking third of the field with dangerous chances, setting up a pair of corner kicks in the 31st minute.
Harkins capitalized again, finding another loose ball from Grant’s corner kick to give the Quakers a two-goal edge.
“We talk a lot about leadership, about moments and your time to step up and lead the team. Owen’s two moments turned into goals,” said Marshall, a former Riverhounds defender. “There were countless other moments where others stepped up too and were huge for us as it was a great, fantastic team effort.”
In the second half, Shady Side cut the Quaker Valley lead in half in the 70th minute when Eric Zhang scored his third goal of the playoffs after a deflection set him up for a blast from close range.
“We didn’t play our best first 40 minutes,” Ellsworth said. “But these guys fought. The goal gave us a lift, and they’ve battled back many times this year, and I was really proud of the way they played.”
As Shady Side battled to find the equalizer, both teams were pushing hard for the advantage.
Play in the final 10 minutes got physical, and Ream was sent off after his second yellow card when interfering with the taking of a Quaker Valley free kick, giving the Quakers a man advantage for the remainder of the game.
The Indians did not get another shot on goal, and the Quakers held on to win their second WPIAL title in five years and first since Marshall took over for longtime coach Gene Klein.
“That’s championship soccer,” Marshall said. “It got closer than we probably wanted. I give Shady Side credit, they battled hard to the last whistle. That’s what you play for, and what you want to see game played with high intensity.”