PINE GROVE – Last night's Schuylkill League boys soccer semifinal between Tamaqua and Halifax defied all odds, as the Wildcats posted a 1-0 upset victory over the Blue Raiders (13-6).
Very seldom do you see a small-school team beat a Division 1 team this time of year. In fact, it's happened only twice in 14 games since the semifinal format was introduced to the Schuylkill League playoffs in 2004. Ironically, Tamaqua suffered both of those setbacks, as last night's loss followed a 2005 defeat to Schuylkill Haven (in an overtime shootout).
Even more rare is the fact that a team wins a game without scoring a goal. For Halifax (19-2), it's now happened twice this season, as they got an own goal (a goal scored by a player of the opposing team accidentally playing the ball into his own team's net) midway through the first half. That comes off the heels of a 1-0 victory over Schuylkill Haven that was won in the exact same fashion.
Lastly, history was certainly on Tamaqua's side, as the Blue Raiders have dominated the Schuylkill League playoffs, having won six of seven Schuylkill League playoff games (including three Championships) over the past five years. Halifax, meanwhile, has never won a Schuylkill Leauge playoff game entering last night, as its only playoff appearance was a 4-1 loss to Tamaqua in the 2008 semifinals.
Now, the Wildcats will be playing for their first Schuylkill League Championship in school history when they take on Division 1 Champion Blue Mountain (a 2-1 winner over Schuylkill Haven) on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at Tamaqua.
"This is a first time for us and it's just an awesome feeling," related Halifax head coach Jeff Kerstetter. "I had three former players call and text the team saying they wanted revenge against Tamaqua for what happened in the playoffs a couple of years ago and I think the kids went in tonight with the mindset of not letting the old boys down."
"People kind of come into these games with a mindset that the bigger schools are going to beat up on the smaller schools, but when you start to play with them and the kids start to gain confidence, that perception quickly goes away and I think we really proved ourselves out there tonight."
Halifax dominated the early going, playing most of the game on Tamaqua's side of the field. In fact, the Wildcats had three shots on goal and five corner kicks, while the Blue Raiders only had two scoring opportunities (one shot and one corner) before halftime.
At the 19:35 mark of the first half, Halifax threatened off a corner kick and a shot by Garrett Rowe, but Tamaqua goal keeper Zack Lakitsky went high in the air to make a leaping save and punched the ball out.
However, eight minutes later (at the 11:46 mark), Tamaqua wasn't as fortunate as the Wildcats got on the scoreboard with an own goal, as a Tamaqua defender accidentally kicked the ball into his own net.
"We got out of our game tonight. We're used to controlling the midfield and we didn't do that today," said Tamaqua head coach Greg Stewart. "I knew it was going to be a tough game, but it was just unfortunate that it was decided on an own goal."
Halifax added four more shots and four more corners in the second half and Tamaqua was never able to mount a serious offensive as the Wildcats limited the Raiders to just three second half shots.
"Halifax played a great game tonight," concluded Stewart. "They had good passing and good communication throughout the game, and we broke down here and there. It's a tough loss to swallow, but we need to put it behind us and work hard to get ready for the District playoffs."