ALTOONA — Scoring a goal for your opponent can be a bitter pill to swallow.
But imagine giving up that goal less than a minute into the game — that’s even worse.
Then compound it by another own goal a little later.
They were gifts the State College boys’ soccer team were not about to turn down — and from which Hollidaysburg would never recover.
“I don’t think we’ve had an own goal all season,” Tigers coach Craig Shale said. “We give two up. There’s nothing you can do about those. It’s just a bad break. They put the balls in the box and that’s how it goes.”
Two own goals, coupled with second-half scores from Jake Garrigan and Will Edwards and a domination of play all Thursday night gave the Little Lions a 4-0 victory at Mansion Park and the District 6 Class AAA title.
“I felt a bit bad about the two own goals,” coach Danny Orton said. “I said to the boys that our general play was good, and the balls into the box were dangerous, and that’s what created the own goals. But it was unlucky for Hollidaysburg the way they went in.”
Orton’s team (12-6-1) earned its third straight district title and has nearly two weeks off before it heads to the PIAA tournament against the runner-up from District 3 in the first round Nov. 5.
Keeper Ty Leway made the lead stand up with three saves at the other end for the shutout.
The first own goal came a mere 59 seconds into the contest, when Tucker Wheeler’s corner kick sailed right to Hollidaysburg’s Hunter Marks, who deflected the ball into the open net.
“I was hoping somebody would put a head on it,” said Wheeler, who officially does not get an assist on the score but did help on both second-half goals. “Then it got through and I saw it in the goal. I didn’t know how that happened. Then I realized it was one of their players.”
Marks stood right in front of the net for several seconds with his head in his hands in disbelief over the play.
“That’s a tough way to start a game — one minute in,” Shale said. “That’s hard to get over. Especially when you know coming in, that’s a really good team.”
Edwards then started the play on the second own goal, when his shot was blocked by keeper Blake Walter, and the Tigers’ Luke Riggelman deflected the ball into the net 18:20 into the half.
“I think that took a toll on them that us scoring wouldn’t have,” Wheeler said. “I think it was a lot worse for them.”
It was a tough enough night for the Tigers (14-5) even without those scores.
State College outshot Hollidaysburg 34-5, with the ball rarely ever reaching the back of the Little Lion defense.
“If we can get the ball in their half a little more, you make your own luck,” Shale said. “They don’t even let you get a chance to put the ball in the box. It’s a total team effort. Their back four is always pushing up, so our midfield’s always backtracking. They play a great game.”
Still, the Little Lions wanted to put the ball in themselves.
Garrigan finally cracked through when Wheeler slipped a perfect pass between a pair of Tiger defenders to the senior, and from a tough angle sent the ball inside the far post.
“That was a nice finish,” Wheeler said. “I was about to take the shot myself when I saw Jake running. I just passed it through to him and he finished it nicely.”
The final goal came just 1:25 later, with Wheeler again setting up the score, this time to Edwards to beat Walter, who finished with 11 saves.
“They’re by far the best team we’ve seen all season,” Shale said. “They’ve just got quality. Every player is a quality player.”
The quality play was assisted by a Mid Penn Conference that hardened the Little Lions, who were 9-6-1 in the league and tied for second place.
“We play a tough conference, and we play tough teams every week, and it’s really prepared us for state-level soccer and district soccer,” Orton said. “We’ve gradually got better as the year’s gone on. Our possessions have got better, our patterns of play have got better.”