Holy Ghost earns state championship

Firebirds goalie Matt Lingerman (left) and teammate Joe Braun go airborne to make sure West Allegheny's Mike Cummings doesn't score.
Firebirds goalie Matt Lingerman (left) and teammate Joe Braun go airborne to make sure West Allegheny's Mike Cummings doesn't score.
Posted: November 18, 2013

HERSHEY, Pa. - The road to the state championship was sweet, and not only because it ended in Hershey.

Holy Ghost Prep, going from cold start to gold finish, won the PIAA Class AA state boys' soccer title Saturday, as Matt Crawford's overtime goal gave the Firebirds a 1-0 victory over West Allegheny at Hersheypark Stadium.

That capped a season marked by early injuries, an opening three-game losing streak, and a lineup that included guys in positions they had never played.

The Firebirds, though, closed by winning both the district and state crowns. The district title was their third straight. The state championship was their first since 1992.

"It's really special," said Crawford, a senior captain. "We have the experience to know we are always going to find a way to get it done, and that's the way the postseason seemed to go for us. We just found a way to win."

After controlling possession in the midfield and dictating most of the play, the Firebirds (20-4) did indeed find a way to win. This time, it was in the first overtime period.

With a little more than nine minutes remaining in the extra session, junior forward Michael Kirby played a ball into the box for Crawford, who collided with the goalkeeper on a tough 50-50 ball.

Fellow senior midfielder Tim French collected the loose ball and sent it back into the box, where Joe Braun tried to get a shot on net.

Crawford redirected the shot from about 8 yards, sending the ball into the back of the net and giving the Firebirds the victory.

"It feels good to be able to score the game-winning goal for my team and help us win states," a beaming Crawford said. "Going from where I was in the beginning of the season to here makes it unbelievable."

Crawford, a midfielder, was sidelined for months leading to the preseason because of a thyroid problem, unable to do any type of physical activity and inactive for the first four games of the year.

French called the early absence of Crawford a big loss, adding that it was difficult adjusting without such a big part of the squad in the lineup all the time.

"From the beginning of the year, we had a few guys who had never played at this level before," French said. "We just had this demeanor about our team, to strive to be the best team that we could be. We really found a way to come together."

French, Crawford, and the rest of the Holy Ghost team came together at just the right time, winning 20 of their last 21, and ending their season with nine straight shutouts - including one in the biggest game of them all.

Holy Ghost Prep 0 0 1 – 1

West Allegheny 0 0 0 – 0

Goal: HGP-Matt Crawford.

Saves: HGP-Matt Lingerman 3; WA-Spencer Wolfe 4.


rallysports@phillynews.com

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