Penn Charter junior Harrison Williams controls the ball at midfield. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Penn Charter junior Harrison Williams controls the ball at midfield. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In the first week of Inter-Ac soccer competition, the boys of Penn Charter took a break from the league schedule last Wednesday, hosting St. Joseph’s Prep of the Philadelphia Catholic League.

An early strike by the visiting Hawks was matched by sophomore Conrad Williams’ goal for the Quakers in the opening minutes of the second half. The 1-1 deadlock held up until the end of regulation play, and since each team had two league matches scheduled during the week, they had agreed beforehand not to play overtime in the event of a tie.

For Charter, it was an auspicious occasion to regroup following a difficult Inter-Ac opener the previous afternoon. PC lost on the road, 5-1, to defending champ Haverford School, and had three players injured in the process. The non-league bout with the Prep on Wednesday seemed to help the Quakers get back on track – they would balance their league record at 1-1 with a 1-0 defeat of Episcopal Academy on Friday.

Charter ended the week at 8-5-2 overall, and four of the losses came against opponents that were ranked in the U.S. top 10 at the time. No stranger to standoffs this season, St. Joe’s left Penn Charter last Wednesday with an overall record of 4-4-6, while remaining 4-3-2 within the PCL.

After the stalemate with the Prep, veteran Penn Charter coach Bob DiBenedetto said, “Sure, I’d like a win, but I’m not unhappy with the result because we played really well. It was a good opportunity for me to move guys around and try them in different positions. We moved Conrad up top for 15 minutes and he got the goal for us. We couldn’t keep him up there because we still have [senior] Addison Cripe out hurt, and he’s normally in the back.”

The Penn Charter skipper was also glad he got a chance to give some extra minutes to freshmen Andrew Morris and Griffin Barnes.

“Andrew played almost the full game for the first time,” he noted, “and in the first half we gave Griffin a look at outside back.”

About three minutes into the match, Quakers junior Harrison Williams directed a header just a little outside the right post of the Hawks’ goal, but it was actually the Prep that generated much of the offensive activity in the first 20 minutes. PC sophomore goalie Jay Jennings punched away a corner kick right at the start of the game, and five minutes in, Prep’s Mike Carr made a run through the middle and sent a shot wide to the right.

St. Joe’s notched its lone goal with about seven minutes gone. Aidan Lynch centered the ball in the box, and Jason Laitner booted a hard shot that got through the gloves of the Quakers’ Jennings.

As the midpoint of the period approached, Charter began to reverse the flow of the play, forcing three corner kicks in the space of a few minutes. The hosts didn’t get off a viable shot on these restarts, but there was one a little later, when junior Drew Shaifer fired from the right side of the box and the ball was deflected away by Hawks goalie Frank Maniscalco.

After that Charter hit two good crossing passes, but one went all the way through to the other side of the box without being touched, and the second ball was cleared out by the Prep’s Greg Bellwoar. In the final minute of the half, Harrison Williams sent another ball inside for PC, and a volley by sophomore Christian Lemmo rose over the crossbar.

The momentum remained with the Quakers as the second half got underway, and they tied the match 1-1 with four minutes and 49 second elapsed in the new period. On a corner from the left, PC kept the ball on the ground and sent it across the front of the goal. It glanced off Maniscalco and a Hawks fullback and kept going, and Conrad Williams closed in from the right to launch a successful shot.

The Quakers soon earned another corner kick, but they fouled on the restart, and after that a strong outside shot by senior Luke Zieger went over the cage.

Charter had controlled the action much of the time in the middle of the contest, but the Prep came on in the final 20 minutes. Lynch and Bob Endy hit shots wide of the Quakers’ cage on opposite sides, and after that the Hawks slipped the ball through to the mouth of the goal several times, but couldn’t find a finisher.

The few on-goal shots that the visitors had were handled by PC’s Jennings.

“It’s fun to watch him play; he makes some big-time saves,” DiBenedetto said.

After Jennings tipped away an attempt by Prep’s Andrew Magiera with three minutes remaining, Charter had a few chances at the end of the game. Zieger had another shot go high, and a straight-on 20-yard boot by Conrad Williams was collected by Maniscalco, preserving the 1-1 tie.

Two days later, Jennings and the PC defense made a goal by Shaifer stand up for a 1-0 win at Episcopal, giving the Quakers their first Inter-Ac victory since the 2012 season.