WEXFORD — The Bradford Owls did something on Tuesday night that no other team had done against Franklin Regional all season: score more than one goal.
The Panthers, one of the best defensive teams in Pennsylvania, conceded two tallies but more than made up for it by controlling the possession and the scoring chances en route to a 6-2 victory over Bradford in a PIAA Class AAA first round matchup at North Allegheny High School.
The Owls (15-6) went toe-to-toe with the supremely talented District 7 champion Panthers (20-0-1) for the first 20 minutes of the game — until an unfortunate call went against them.
Streaking down the left side of the field, Franklin’s Anthony DiFalco was tripped up by a Bradford defender. Though it looked to be outside of the penalty area and light on actual contact, the official awarded a penalty kick. DiFalco capitalized, and Franklin took the 1-0 lead. Bradford coach Wes Lohrman was given a yellow card for arguing the call, but wasn’t ready to say the critical call changed the complexion of the game afterwards.
“It probably put an extra weight on our shoulders but we still didn’t really alter what we were going to do in that first half,” he said. “It didn’t really force us to press as much as what we needed to but anytime you go down a goal against a team like that, it has an impact.”
The Owls regrouped and played Franklin scoreless for the next 13 minutes until their opponents again found the back of the net. The Panthers’ Zach Lorenz scored the goal of the game on a beautiful shot from outside of the 30-yard-line that went just over the outstretched arm of Bradford goalie Evan Schmidt and just under the crossbar. DiFalco added his second of the game less than two minutes later to extend Franklin’s lead to 3-0.
The Owls were outshot 16-1 heading into the intermission against a team that had outscored its opponents 100-4 entering the game.
“They’re composed. They have a gameplan, they know how to move the ball around and they know what the want to get the other team to do,” Lohrman said of Franklin’s playing style. “One of the things that’s different about them and their style of play is that they want us to press them. They want to pull us apart and then they have some accurate passers and they have some really intelligent runners up top who can get in and find the seams.”
Aided by some halftime adjustments, the game opened a bit for Bradford’s offense in the final 40 minutes.
Just over nine minutes into the second half, the Owls got on the board when Alex Marrone headed a ball over Franklin goalkeeper Gianni Diacopoulos via a long pass from the other side of the field from teammate Ian Grady.
That goal seemed to light a fire back under Franklin, however, as the Panthers struck back to score three goals over the next 11 minutes.
Blake Cooper, Garrett Beaver and Colton Hudson each netted a goal for Franklin, which took advantage of Bradford having to pull some of its players forward in hopes of equalizing the score.
Then, in a reversal of fortunes with the game winding down, Bradford was fouled in the box with just over 10 minutes to play. The Owls’ Isaiah Pingie was awarded a penalty kick, and he blasted it straight on net and past Diacopoulos.
“I was pleased where we were at going into halftime, maybe we would have liked for it to be a little bit closer but we made some adjustments and we were able to get one in,” Lohrman said. “With the adjustments we made, it left us a little open in the back and the floodgates opened. But the boys kept playing the whole way through.”
The game could have gotten even more out of hand in the second half if it weren’t for the stellar play in net from Schmidt. Unofficially, the senior keeper had 13 saves in his final high school soccer game, but at least four of them were diving across the crease to prevent goals on point-blank opportunities.
Franklin finished with a 33-4 advantage in attempted shots, with backup goalie Hugh Kennedy making two late saves in the game for Bradford.
After the game, Lorhman let Franklin coach Rand Hudson do the talking on Schmidt.
“I know he stopped and talked to Evan and he talked to me too and when somebody from a team of this magnitude who has the potential to go win the state championships tells you that this is the best goalkeeper that he’s seen all year long that speaks volumes,” Lohrman said. “You and I know that because we see it on a regular basis. But now to get down here and have people see it is kind of exciting. We are going to miss having him in the net, but he made some great saves today.”
Tuesday’s loss marked the final game for Schmidt and 15 other seniors. That class went to four straight District 9 championship games together — coming away with titles in the last two — and won over 60 games total.
Lohrman offered some of his final thoughts on a group that has been together since their youth soccer days over a decade ago, while also hoping that they won’t be going too far from the BAHS program.
“They definitely challenged me in a variety of ways but they helped me learn and they helped me grow as a coach,” he said. “I hope that in some way, whether it was on the field or in the classroom or off the field, that I helped them grow as people as well. We are going to miss having them around, but I do have a good feeling that a large portion of them will continue to give back to the soccer development in the area and our community in general.