Joe Smeltzer | Observer Reporter
Going to a championship game should never be bittersweet.
For Peters Township’s boys soccer team, it is.
To be sure, the Indians were thrilled to beat North Allegheny, 4-1, in Tuesday night’s WPIAL Class 4A semifinal and are delighted to be going to the championship match for the second straight season.
But while Tuesday was a night to celebrate for Peters Township, the program’s thoughts are with Cole Woodward.
The Indians’ senior defender suffered a severe injury — coach Bob Dyer believed it’s a broken ankle — with roughly 20 minutes left in the second half.
What should have been one of the best nights of Woodward’s sporting life ended with him leaving West Allegheny High School’s stadium in an ambulance and will almost certainly mark a dreadful end to his high school soccer career.
“It was hard,” Woodward’s classmate and friend Andrew Massucci said. “We were all down seeing him down, the ambulance coming to get him. But we all rallied around it.”
After what must have felt like a 100-year delay for Peters Township (16-1-1), it would have been fair to wonder where the team’s heads would be when play resumed.
This veteran-heavy squad — 15 seniors — got back to work and scored two more goals to finish the job.
“That’s senior leadership,” Dyer said. “That’s a desire to end this game for the guy that just walked off the field. We talked about the effort that Cole had given, and we weren’t going to let that effort be wasted on giving up a goal.”
Dyer knows Woodward will be missed but is also confident that he is happy about what his teammates and best buddies have accomplished.
“To lose Cole today, it’s terrible,” he said. “But I think Cole would tell you that are his best friends.”
“He had an absolutely fantastic game, had a great end to the season, and will be absolutely missed in the finals. So, it’s going to be hard to cover up for him, but as we all know in sports, we keep moving on, and it’s the next man up.”
The Indians scored first, in the 10th minute, courtesy of senior Alex Grim. The Tigers (15-6) answered later in the half on a strike by Evan Anderson that beat Peters Township goalkeeper Nico Melograne right at the seven-minute mark of the half. It remained tied into halftime.
Peters Township jumped back in front 13 minutes into the second half on a goal by Massucci.
Massucci’s overtime heroics against Fox Chapel sent Peters Township to last year’s championship game, and although this goal was slightly less dramatic, it was still a game-winner.
“Alex Grim on the wing put it in the box on net, hit the goalie,” Massucci said. “I just crashed the net and tapped it in.”
Woodward’s injury turned metaphoric sunshine into rain. Although the PT soccer community will be thinking about Woodward down the line, Connor Hoye gave reason to smile again with 18:20 left.
His header put Peters Township up by two, and from there, it was only a matter of time.
“I was ecstatic,” Hoye said. “The team surrounded me, and it was great.”
Austin Marmol added sprinkles in the 65th minute to give the game its eventual final score.
The Indians have clinched a berth in the state playoffs regardless of what happens Saturday, but that doesn’t make them want another shot at Seneca Valley any less. Last year, Seneca Valley edged PT, 4-3, and because the PIAA only took one team from each district to states, that’s where the Indians’ season ended.
This Saturday evening at Highmark Stadium at 5:45 p.m., the Indians have a chance for revenge.
For Massucci, the key to a different result against Seneca Valley will be for Peters Township to simply be Peters Township.
“We’re going to have to work hard, do our thing, do what we usually do, and we should come out on top,” he said.
“We’re headed back for some unfinished business,” Dyer said.