N'western advances to title game
nancy scholz/times news Northwestern's Brandon Herb heads the ball toward the Southern Lehigh goal.
The last three years Kyle Willis has been playing his heart out for the sake of the upperclassmen on his Northwestern boys' soccer team.
With this being his senior season, the Tiger star was finally able to fulfill a career-long goal Monday night in Slatington.
After being part of two Northwestern teams that lost in the Colonial League semifinals (2010 and 2012), and playing for one Tiger team that missed the league playoffs entirely (2011), Willis finally finds himself and the rest of his teammates playing for a league championship.
Willis took manners into his own hands, well, more like on his own foot, by scoring two goals in what turned out to be a 3-1 semifinal victory over Southern Lehigh to give the Tigers a chance to play for a league title for the first time since 2008 and win their first championship since 2005.
"Every year that I have been playing we tried to do it for the seniors because it was their last year," said Willis, who has nine goals and 20 assists on the season. "Two years ago, when I was a sophomore, it was my brother's (Andrew) senior year, and we didn't even qualify for the playoffs. Last year, the seniors on the team were like brothers to me and even though we qualified for the playoffs, we lost in the semis to Southern Lehigh."
Northwestern head coach Nate Hunsicker used that loss to his advantage.
"I would be lying if I said that I didn't use last year's loss league playoffs as motivation," Hunsicker said. "But, if we didn't come with our "A" game we weren't going to get the win. We definitely had a little extra fuel, a little extra incentive to really get the win and get a little redemption."
Tiger senior midfielder Brandon Ettl scored his 20th goal of the season with 20:53 left in the first half to give Northwestern a 1-0 lead.
After that, the Tigers turned a bit defensive and the Spartans took advantage of it outshooting the Tigers 13-4 during the middle stages of the game before they finally capitalized against NW freshman keeper Kyle Bellhorn. Ryan Fowler scored the Spartans' lone goal with 25:30 left in the game.
It served as a wake up call for the Tigers.
It was Willis who then made his own dream possible by breaking the tie with a goal with 5:42 left in the game.
Then, with two second left in the contest, the Tigers were awarded a penalty kick and Willis capitalized on it to finish the game in style.
"I have a bunch of seniors on my team this year," Hunsicker said. "This is my third year as head coach, so I had a lot of them as sophomores. I said to them this year, 'We're going home with a medal.'
"And, I said, 'I sure would like to make it gold.' So, now we're on the doorstep. It's just a matter of finishing the job."
Northwestern will get a chance to finish it on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Salisbury High School against Moravian Academy.