by Tom Utescher
In most cases, games that end in a tie aren’t particularly satisfying, but on September 28 the host Patriots of Germantown Academy had reason to be content with a 1-1 draw in a non-league match against New Jersey soccer stronghold Pennington School.
With senior Steve Combs (11 saves) in the goalcage for GA, the Patriots kept the Red Raiders off the scoreboard for more than an hour, but Pennington scored with a little over 15 minutes remaining. Germantown, which for much of the afternoon had focused on slowing down the attack of the talented visiting side, now pushed up the field in a bid to secure a tying goal.
With just over seven minutes to go, Combs’ sophomore brother, Harrison, put away the equalizer for the home team. The non-league rivals had agreed beforehand to forego overtime in the event of a tie, so the match went into the books with a 1-1 final score at the end of regulation play.
The Patriots, who had previously faced Garden State squads Lawrenceville (0-1) and Hun School (3-5), came away with a record of 2-3-1 in non-league bouts, while Pennington, which had beaten Hun 6-1 a week earlier, left GA with a mark of 5-1-2.
“That’s by far the best team we’ve played this year,” stated Chris Fehrle, GA’s fifth-year head coach. “They knock the ball around well, they’re good at every position, and they’re all very technical, smart players. That’s why coming out of here with a tie was a positive result.”
Pennington’s potential to strike quickly and frequently led Fehrle to instruct his team to take a methodical, defense-oriented approach for the first time this fall. The Patriots generated some offensive threats throughout the game, but they always made sure they had numbers in the back, as least up until the Red Raiders scored late in the second half.
“I know it’s not the most fun for the kids when we play defensively and try to make it difficult for the other team to play through us,” Fehrle said. “I’m very proud of the way the kids executed the game plan; ‘discipline’ was the big word we were stressing today.”
Helping GA carry out this conservative strategy were keeper Steve Combs and three other senior co-captains who play either defensive or midfield positions. They are Eric Greenwood, Sam Robinson, and Nikki Roman.
It was the Red Raiders who generated much of the early offense. GA did get down to the Pennington endline at one point, but when junior Yago Lopez (an exchange student from Spain) crossed the ball inside it was deflected out by a visiting back.
In the home team’s goal, Combs stopped a shot by Brazilian Paulo Magalhaes about six minutes in, then faced two Pennington corner kicks around the 10-minute mark. On the first one, Greenwood kicked the ball clear for GA, and the second time the ball was headed away from the cage by sophomore defender Will Noe.
On a long free kick for GA later on, the ball was served into the box and Greenwood stretched to get a foot on it, but the ball shot straight up into the air. At the other end, another Pennington corner play came to naught, and then on a direct kick visitor Satchel Cortet fired high over the left post. About 10 minutes before halftime GA came upfield on a counter, but a lead pass was hit a little too hard and Raiders goalie Asher Carlson was able to scramble out and grab the ball away from the Patriots’ Roman.
On a hard Pennington shot late in the period, Combs knocked the ball down but couldn’t hold it. He quickly scooped it up before Pennington forwards could close in, and soon halftime arrived with the score still 0-0.
Pennington couldn’t penetrate the Germantown Academy cage despite renewed attacks as the second period got underway. In transition with about a dozen minutes elapsed, GA got Harrison Combs loose up the middle, but a little inside the 18 he shot the ball into the legs of the approaching Carlson.
Another GA sophomore, Ian Lugossy, got off a better shot from inside the box on the left, but Carlson was again up to the task. Near mid-period Pennington brought the ball down around the left endline and the elder Combs made a good stop at the near post on a strong shot angled in by visitor Dawson Decuff.
With the clock down under 16 minutes, two Pennington seniors who have committed to Boston University collaborated to get the Raiders on the scoreboard. Cortet sent a pass up from the midfield to connect with fast, skillful forward Tunji Onitiri, who maneuvered into the left side of the box and drove the ball into the net.
GA had a little over a quarter of an hour to try and even the score, and for Coach Fehrle, the time for caution was over.
“After they scored, he put one of our outside mids up with me,” related Harrison Combs. “He also had one of our other outside mids play more of an attacking role, and that gave us a stronger offense.”
Following a GA move into the box with around seven-and-a-half minutes remaining, Pennington got the ball and was trying to clear it out to the side.
“Their last defender had the ball pretty much on the endline and Ian stripped it away from him,” Combs said. “I was right in the middle of the six and Ian crossed it in. I just took a touch and placed it.”
It was the fourth goal of the season for the 10th-grader, who had played midfield and then defense earlier in his soccer career before moving to striker.
“My goals have all been kind of different; the one before this was from 20 yards out,” Combs revealed. “This one today was probably the easiest. Ian did all the work, and the ball came to me and I just had to put it in.”
Other key roles were played by his brother Steve in the goalcage, and by the hardworking Greenwood, who always seemed to be in the vicinity of the ball in the midfield.
“They gave us the kind of game you need to have from experienced senior leaders,” said Fehrle, who also praised the defensive performance of fellow 12th grader Robinson and of three sophomore backs, Noe, Mike Capone, and Mike Roman.