A fast start was all the Bald Eagle Area boys’ soccer team needed Monday night against Bellefonte.
On the road against the Red Raiders, the Eagles converted two first-half opportunities into goals and withstood a late Bellefonte rally to win the Mountain League title with a 2-1 victory at Rogers Stadium.
“We had to hold on in the second half and Bellefonte put on a huge push,” BEA coach Jason Bair said. “Sometimes it isn’t easy and our guys held on tight.”
Early on, it looked like it might be a fairly easy night for the Eagles. Although neither team managed to dominate possession early on, Bald Eagle Area benefitted from a fortunate bounce in the 16th minute.
With the ball near midfield, Bald Eagle Area defender Gage Smocer-Hilderbrand booted a shot towards the front of the net that deflected off Bellefonte’s Noah Gaus and went past goalie Matt Feldman for an own goal and a 1-0 Eagles lead.
The Eagles would score a second goal less than 13 minutes later, when midfielder Mitchell Taylor took a pass from Chris Dunklebarger from 20 yards out and managed to separate himself from the defense long enough to get a shot just over Feldman’s outstretched hands.
“When it gets in the 18 (yard) box things get kind of hectic with the ball just flying around,” Taylor said. “It just kind of landed on my feet and I took a shot and it went in.”
Down 2-0 at halftime, Bellefonte came out much more active in the second half and looked like a different team for the final 40 minutes.
After generating just one shot the entire first half, the Red Raiders got off five in the second and generated consistent pressure on the Eagles.
It finally paid off 18 minutes into the half, when Dion Furfaro ripped a corner kick into the box that Gaus headed past Eagles goalie Alexander Boyer to put Bellefonte down by just one goal.
“I told them in the first half, ‘We’re not getting shots,’” Bellefonte head coach Scott Martz said. “I thought we were playing good soccer, so in the second half I challenged them to get some more shots and we finally got the one to go in.”
For the rest of the game, the play of both goalies stood out as both teams generated numerous chances that were denied by great saves by Boyer and Feldman.
In the final few minutes, the Eagles were able to clinch the win by controlling the possession of the ball and preventing the Red Raiders from establishing a final push before the final whistle.
It was an especially sweet victory for BEA, as it gave them a league title a year after they finished a disappointing 2-14-2.
“I’m extremely proud of my guys,” Bair said. “Last year we were bottom of the league and this year we’re the league champs, what a story. We did enough to get by.”
Both teams have a short turnaround with the district playoffs starting this week, as Bellefonte plays Bishop Carroll on Tuesday and Bald Eagle Area faces Westmount Hilltop on Wednesday.