Athens falls 1-0 in state playoffs - 2016 NTL and District 4 News -

Athens falls 1-0 in state playoffs.

By: The Review | Towanda Daily Review | November 9, 2016


EMMAUS — A season of firsts is a lot to take in.

Athens boys' soccer faced a lot of firsts down the stretch of their season.

After grabbing the school's first-ever District IV title, the Wildcats (18-1-1) geared up for their first-ever PIAA Class AAA state playoff game against the undefeated Northwestern Lehigh Tigers (21-0-1).

A hard-fought battle ended up already having the deciding factor late in the first half.

NWL's Noah Meyers netted the lone goal of the game for the Tigers, as the Wildcats fell 1-0 Tuesday night at Emmaus High School.

It is far from a season for Athens to hang their heads on, and Coach Jake Lezak knows that.

"I thought the boys played great when you consider they haven't been here and not knowing what the teams are like before," Lezak said. "They played steady, held in there and traded some chances at the end. They didn't bend or break. Couldn't be prouder of this group."

The Wildcats definitely had their nerves, but that disappeared right away when they knew what the Tigers brought to the table.

"I think once the team stepped on the field and won the opening kickoff they settled in quite well," Lezak said. "We were able to possess and move the ball then we realized our opponent isn't bigger, faster and stronger than us. The nerves went away quick."

Athens didn't ever take the giving up route based on the fact where and how long they've come to make it to state competition.

"(Northwestern) playing them tough was a challenge for the boys, but it showed where they're at (mentally and physically) and where their work has brought them to," Lezak said. "They know they can do this and run with these teams. At the end of the season there's only going to be one."

Before the Tigers even took their lead, Athens had a legitimate shot at taking the lead early on.

At the 15-minute mark, Shane Colegrove came in the from the left side on a potentially nifty cross in front of the goal, but came up empty with someone to pass to.

After the Tigers found the net for their goal, Braden Priester stepped it up for Athens.

At the 33rd-minute mark, Priester slid under a fastbreaking NWL's Kenneth Gawelko to take the ball out of protection in the middle of his feet. A minute later, Priester made a valiant save on a Tigers corner kick.

Priester's effort kept the Wildcats motivated to keep tabs the rest of the way.

"(Braden Priester) was solid in goal for us tonight," Lezak said. "He came off his line very well and didn't give up any rebounds. He handled the traffic that kept coming his way."

Before the first half came to a close, Brad Cardona had a golden chance to tie the game. Cardona took a shot in front of the net, but NWL goalkeeper Kyle Bellhorn dove to make the save.

Seconds later, the ball trickled out of Bellhorn's hands. Ethan Lane accelerated to the live ball and went for a shot, but Bellhorn tripped him up stop the second straight shot in its tracks.

A somewhat quiet second half followed halftime, but Athens took an effort to feed the ball to their big scorers. At the 49-minute mark, Colegrove set up for a direct kick.

Colegrove connected on a swift kick to the goal, but it veered to the right at the last second.

The rest of the second half was very much back and forth, however, the Tigers controlled the tempo. With that, Athens' defense started to feel overworked.

"The whole backline put in a lot of work," Lezak said. "At times, there were four guys on the backline. That's tough because we're not used to something like that. It made marking more difficult and how we're used to stepping up. A lot of it is just lessons learned."

The Tigers' counter attack was the big factor, throwing off Athens enough to keep them out of the loop at times.

"Our opponent did a great job on slowing us on the counter attack," Lezak said. "I think the thing we struggled with the most is when teams get their numbers back. When they do that and slow us down, then that's when we have a tough time getting behind a defense. It just leads us to passing and passing the ball and not finding an opening through their airtight defense."

NWL's juggled their game plan dozens of times, making it hard for Athens to match their intensity at points.

"At times, (NW Lehigh) would take it back then build or go long," Lezak said. "It kept us off-balance. You're going to see different styles every game. The team we play might play more of a crossing game. We let one counter attack slip. This game would have a different outcome if they didn't score in the first half."

The Wildcats are losing six seniors to graduation, a core group that became a big part of Athens' district run.

"They're a tremendous group, all of them," Lezak said. "They work really hard and give us 100 percent every time out. They provide a lot of dedication and leadership to the team and show the younger guys what's expected. They're going to be missed."

Priester made 11 saves in the net for the Wildcats, while Bellhorn made five for the Tigers.

The Tigers outshot the Wildcats 6-4. NWL had four corner kicks while Athens didn't have any.