Luke Campbell | Observer Reporter
For the Peters Township High School boys soccer team, the first 10 minutes of its semifinal match against upset-minded Pine-Richland was about not letting the Rams continue the momentum they built in the first two rounds.
With thrilling victories over No. 4 seed Central Catholic and No. 5 Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland was riding a wave of adrenaline and looking to knock off another top-ranked opponent.
The composure of senior-dominated and top-seeded Peters Township squeezed the life out of the opening minutes, scored the all-important first goal and went on to defeat No. 13 Pine-Richland 4-1 in a WPIAL Class 4A semifinal match Saturday afternoon in Joe P. DeMichela Stadium at West Allegheny High School.
“We just didn’t want to make mistakes early and put ourself in a hole,” Peters Township coach Bobby Dyer said. “It’s not about feeling out the opponent but making sure the game doesn’t get away from us.”
After Peters Township suffocated any attempt of a fast start for the Rams, senior midfielder Luke Kelly headed a Brian Bruzdewicz free kick from the near sidelines into the upper corner to give PT a 1-0 lead at the 17-minute mark.
The goal allowed the Indians to control the tempo from the midway mark of the first half.
“It’s huge not to chase the game and have the ability to dictate the pace,” Dyer said. “Pine-Richland has bought into their system. As teams begin to get on a roll, it means they are buying into what their coaches are doing. More importantly, they believe in what they are doing. We didn’t want to let them come out today and build on that.”
Peters Township (17-0-1) took another step in the right direction – an opportunity to play against No. 2 seed North Allegheny and win its 10th WPIAL championship – when Bryce Gabelhart collected a rebound off Pine-Richland goalkeeper Tom Fest and buried a shot below the crossbar to put the Indians up 2-0 with 4:48 left in the first half.
But Pine Richland (13-5-2) wasn’t going down without a fight, scoring on a Niko Marsh strike from far out to cut the Indians’ lead to 2-1 with 31:36 left in the second half.
A minute and a half later, the deficit was quickly back to two goals, 3-1, when Mitchell Mindach found and open Nathan Lopus, who blistered a shot past Fest.
“It was a great play,” Dyer said. “(Nathan) timed his run perfectly, opened up and scored a great goal. It was at a time where we were maybe a little unsettled, too.”
The Lopus tally allowed the Indians turn its energy and focus on keeping the Pine-Richland attack out of the center of the field and limiting any quality chances to challenge senior goalkeeper Derek Deyarmin.
Bruzdewicz iced the ice-cold game when he flipped the ball over the head of an attacking Fest, who was charging for the lose ball, to give PT a 4-1 lead with 16:20 remaining.
Peters Township returns to the title game at Highmark Stadium in Station Square for the first time since 2014, when it defeated Upper St. Clair 5-1. North Allegheny is the defending WPIAL 4A champion. The date and time for the Class 4A championship game is still to be determined.
It will be the second time PT and North Allegheny have met this season. The Indians defeated North Allegheny 2-1 in a nonsection match Sept. 9.