Lance Lysowski | Observer Reporter
Canon-McMillan held a halftime lead and appeared to be in good shape for a win when Peters Township mounted a second-half comeback, defeating the Big Macs 3-1 in a Section 5-AAA matchup Tuesday night at Memorial Stadium.
The game was a mirror image of the first meeting between the two teams on Sept. 17, when the Big Macs and Indians played to a 0-0 draw at Peters Township, which was a testy match between two of the strongest teams in the WPIAL.
The Indians (8-1-1, 11-2-1) battled back from a 1-0 halftime deficit with three second-half goals to maintain their spot as the second seed in the section; leading to an intriguing rematch against top-seed Upper St. Clair Thursday. The Indians outshot the Big Macs 7-2 in the second half. The Indians clinched a playoff berth last week, and the Big Macs (6-2-2, 11-2-2) have the third and final playoff berth locked up.
“Like any other section game for us, it’s a big win,” Peters Township coach Bobby Dyer said. “This gives us the ability to play (Upper St. Clair) on Thursday for the right to share the title with them. This is another step. It’s nice to see the second half that we put together.”
Canon-McMillan coach Larry Fingers did not comment on the game.
Peters Township started the second half strong, maintaining possession in Canon-McMillan’s end for several stretches before pushing a goal past the Big Macs’ goalkeeper Christian Snatchko. Several players gathered in front of the net when a lobbed pass went off the head of Indians’ junior midfielder Jonathan Sion to tie the game.
Less than two minutes later, junior forward Mario Mastrangelo gathered a loose ball off a rebound and fired it behind Snatchko for the 2-1 lead.
“I think all of the kids changed the game at halftime and that was the difference in the game,” Dyer said. “It wasn’t a tactical move; it wasn’t anything other than (Canon-McMillan) was the aggressor in the first half, and (Peters Township) was the aggressor in the second half.”
From there, the game became testy with heightened emotions following the injury of Big Macs senior midfielder Corey McCurdy. He returned to the game later, but the jeers of fans following penalties called against Peters Township added to the playoff-like atmosphere.
With 16 minutes remaining in the game, Mastrangelo added a second goal to put the game out of reach for the Big Macs.
“It felt great,” Mastrangelo said. “They were solid in the first half, and we put four (players) up top in the second half. They didn’t know what to do after that.”
Canon-McMillan coach Larry Fingers refused to comment after the game.
It was not until the 24th minute of the first half that one of the teams finally broke through. Canon-McMillan’s leading scorer, sophomore forward Nick Sodini, drew a double team on the left side of the Peters Township goal. Sodini did a quick fake to open a passing lane and chipped the ball to McCurdy, who beat Indians senior goalkeeper Max O’Hare at the nearside post.
During the first five minutes of regulation, Peters Township registered two quality scoring chances, including two shots that hit the post above Snatchko’s head. Indians junior midfielder Ryan Ponchione almost gave Peters Township an early lead when his shot from 40 yards out rang off the goalpost, and Mastrangelo fired a shot from 30 yards out that Snatchko stifled. Mastrangelo made the Canon-McMillan fans gasp just minutes later when his shot from 20 yards out rang off the top-right goalpost.
Peters Township has an opportunity to grab the top spot in the section against USC.
“(Upper St. Clair) is the best team in the state,” Dyer said. “They’re coming to our place on Thursday night, and I think it will be a hard-fought game. Hopefully, we will compete with the level we showed in the second half.”