HUMMELSTOWN - Benton played much better in the opening round of the PIAA Class A championships than it did in the District 4 Class A championship, playing as complete a game as it has all season.
But a very fast Greenwood team used an early miscue to score the game's only goal and end Benton's season with a 1-0 win.
"Tonight's the way we played all season long," Benton coach Aaron Flook said. "We put it together for 80 minutes.
Sentinel photo by LARRY?YOHN
Greenwood’s Josh Ferguson (10) moves the ball past a Benton defender during the PIAA Class A boys soccer championship Tuesday in Hummelstown. The ’Cats won 2-1
"We jumped the gun on one play and it cost us a goal. But we came to the task defensively. We knew they had a solid scorer in (Josh Ferguson) and had another playmaker (in Tyler Fegley). We didn't realize they had a lot of speed all over."
The Tigers (18-4-1) came out early and made a statement, stopping a very aggressive Greenwood (21-2) offense in the first 10 minutes.
The Wildcats advance to play Mountain View, a 6-1 winner over Williams Valley, Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
*Greenwood plays Mountain View Saturday at a site and time to be determined
Benton, unable to keep up with the quickness of the Wildcats' strikers, more than compensated with defenders cutting off passing and shooting lanes to make things miserable for Greenwood.
Having survived the Wildcats first attack, the Tigers immediately countered. Brad Hess, extremely close to being called for offsides, made a break for the goal with 26 minutes left in the first half. Ben Pasukinis laced a great pass through traffic, and Hess found himself one-on-one with goalie Ryan Kerstetter. Kerstetter blocked Hess' first shot, and made a tremendous save on the second to keep the game scoreless.
"We really had a few golden chances to score," Flook said. "(Hess) was going one-on-one with the keeper. We weren't able to capitalize on the opportunities. I can't fault my guys at all."
That was Benton's best chance to score, as Greenwood's suffocating defense came crashing down on the ball carrier after that possession.
"We knew (Greenwood) had speed on (its) defensive line," Flook said. "They were constantly beating us to the ball."
Hess broke free again with 16 minutes remaining in the first half, battling his way to the penalty kick line. Hess' shot attempt was thwarted after he was swarmed by four defenders. Hess fought his way out of the mess of defenders, and only managed to kick a slow roller that Kerstetter was able to scoop up.
With 7 1/2 minutes remaining, the Wildcats made their move. After clearing the ball from their own 18-yard box, Ferguson found himself in possession and began rapidly driving towards the goal. With Fegley in tow, the two strikers bobbed and weaved and made precise passes to navigate a swarming Benton defense.
Ferguson found himself with a clear shot at the goal, but opted to feed Fegley the ball, and Fegley fired a rocket into the back of the goal.
"We got off our marks and that opened up the shot," Flook said.
Instead of hanging their heads like they did when district final opponent East Juniata put up a goal, the Tigers came out with more intensity and made sure that was the only goal Greenwood scored. Between an even more intense effort from the defense and outstanding play from keeper Garret Watson, Benton primed itself to come out swinging in the second half.
After half, the Wildcats poured on the pressure, and the Tigers were unable to mount any sort of counterattack. With Ferguson and Fegley constantly penetrating into the Tigers' half of the field, playing outstanding defense was all Benton could do to keep Greenwood from increasing the lead.
Even then, the Wildcats fired off 14 shots in the second half, seven of which were saved by Watson.
"Garret Watson came off his line very well. He limited their opportunities, and made some great saves," Flook said. "Tonight was a perfect example of them getting a shot taken on us and him making the save. He was taking everything close to the vest, and he came up great."
With 23 minutes remaining, Watson made the biggest save of the game for the Tigers. Ferguson came hard on a fast break, and looked like he was going to get the shot past a charging Watson. Watson slid at Ferguson, and made a terrific save at the edge of the 18-yard box.
Benton found itself with two prime scoring opportunities in the final minute after being award a corner kick. Garrett Karschner kicked the ball high, but Kerstetter made a leaping catch and took away the kick.
Pasukinis found himself dodging defenders 20 seconds later and, after getting some separation, found a seam in the defense and took the last shot of the game. Kerstetter came up big again, making the game-saving play and punching Greenwood's ticket into the next round.
"We played good. Most of it was defensively," Flook said. "Maybe we put too much emphasis on defense. But we showed in the first half that we could have scored easily."