As if the matchup wasn't tough enough, the Hollidaysburg Golden Tigers put themselves into an early hole against State College in the District 6 Class AAA boys soccer championship game Thursday night at Mansion Park.
Less than one minute into the game - 59 seconds to be exact - State College scored when Tucker Wheeler's corner kick bounced off Hollidaysburg's Hunter Marks into the Tigers' net.
Then, adding insult to injury, the Tigers gave a helping hand to State's second score. The Little Lions' second goal came when Hollidaysburg keeper Blake Walter rejected a Wheeler shot only to have it bounce off defender Luke Riggleman into the Tiger net.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
State College’s Shawn Lingenfelter takes a shot on goal as Hollidaysburg’s Alec Menard (25), Elliott Riggle (11) and Collin Terchanik (16) try to defend.
There was 22:40 left in the first half, the Tigers were down 2-0 and hadn't even taken a shot yet.
"I don't know if we've had an own goal all season," Hollidaysburg coach Craig Shale lamented after the game, a 4-0 loss, "and we get two of them tonight.
"There's nothing you can do about it, though," Shale continued. "It's just a bad break. They put the balls in the box and that's how it goes."
It made Shale wonder what might have been if the Tigers had had a different start.
"If you take those two goals away ... they weren't head and shoulders above us, I guess," he said. "But, one minute in [to the game], that's hard to get over."
Shale quickly turned his attention to the State College team and lavished praise on the Little Lions, who won their third straight district crown.
"That's a very good team," he said. "They're by far the best team we've seen all season. They've got quality. Every player is a quality player."
Based on regular-season records, Hollidaysburg was the top seed and SC was second, but Shale conceded the Lions, a member of the Mid-Penn Conference, play a tougher schedule.
"They play tough teams every week," Shale said, "and we don't play that level. Hats off to them. They played really well and deserved to win. They don't give you many chances to put the ball in the box. They play a great game."
State dominated play, outshooting the Tigers, 27-6, keeping the pressure on the Tigers' end of the field and making it a relatively easy night for its keeper, Ty Leway.
The Lions, who also had an 8-2 margin in corner kicks, got second-half goals from Jake Garrigan and Will Edwards. Wheeler assisted Garrigan at the 29:44 mark and Edwards, with Wheeler assisting again, scored 85 seconds later.
"I felt a bit bad about the two own goals," State coach Danny Orton said, "but our general play was good. The balls into the box are dangerous and that's what creates the own goals, so it was unlucky for Hollidaysburg the way they went in.
"I was glad we got a couple more [scores] in the second half."
Orton agreed that the Lions' constant pressure wears on opponents.
"We play tough teams every week," he said. "It's state-level soccer and we gradually got better as the season went on.
"We looked comfortable out there tonight."
Despite the loss, Shale praised his team for a fine 14-6 season.
"We had a great season," he said. "We lost a lot of players last season, but these guys have stepped up. We played well with great team chemistry and I'm proud of them. They've exceeded expectations.
"It's a tough way to go out, but, like I said, [State College] is a different quality."
SCORE BY HALVES
State College2 2 - 4
Hollidaysburg 0 0 - 0
First Half: SC-Hollidaysburg own goal, 39:01; SC-Hollidaysburg own goal, 22:40.
Second Half: SC-Garrigan (Wheeler), 29:44; SC-Edwards (Wheeler), 28:19.
Records: State College (15-6-1); Hollidaysburg (14-6).