HOLLIDAYSBURG - The first goal is always the most important when you reach the postseason, and Philipsburg-Osceola boys soccer coach Shawn Inlow can attest to that after Saturday's District 6 Class AA championship tilt at Tiger Stadium.
Bellefonte appeared to take a 1-0 lead in the first half, but it was ruled that the Red Raiders interfered with Mounties keeper Jay Prentice.
Once Inlow's group refocused, the Mounties were able to get on the board with a header from Alex Gray in the game's 61st minute.
Gray's tally opened the floodgates for P-O, which got two goals from Lucas Kristofits to earn the first district soccer championship in school history, 3-0.
"This feels nice," Inlow said. "It was really nice that all the teams in the semis were from the Mountain League. Bellefonte had been on an 11-game run since we beat them.
"I think the official was spot on [waving Bellefonte's goal off] or else we would have had an entirely different event. That official saved our bacon right there."
Gray's game-winner came off a throw-in from teammate Taylor Golemboski, as the traffic in front of the net was too much for Bellefonte keeper Shane Kaschalk to work through.
The ball took a fortuitous bounce in front of Gray before he headed it past Kaschalk for a 1-0 advantage at the 60:55 mark.
"It was giant [to score the first goal]," Inlow said. "It was a header off a throw, and we've been doing that all year. If the goalie can't out-muscle our big guy for the ball, it's trouble."
A pair of unassisted goals from Kristofits, a student in the West Branch School District on a co-op at P-O, sealed the deal for the Mounties.
Kristofits' first goal came exactly three minutes after Gray's header, as his persistence paid off in getting the ball past Kaschalk. Kristofits streaked down the left side of the field, went around a Raider defender and forced the ball past the Bellefonte keeper with a strong right boot.
Kristofits celebrated by sliding on his knees and pointing to the sky with both fingers.
Inlow and his teammates also celebrated, as the Mounties haven't had more than two goals scored on them in any contest this season, thus making it all but certain the title was theirs.
"He was just went bull in a china shop," Inlow said of Kristofits. "He really ran at their back line. His speed nearly wrecked them a couple of times in the first half, and he caused some real chaos. I didn't think they'd be able to hold him out the rest of the game with that speed."
While the Raiders had a goal wiped off the board, the Mounties dictated the tempo throughout much of the opening half and had a couple near misses of their own.
P-O had the game's first scoring chance in the 11th minute, as a shot ricocheted off the cross bar and straight down behind Kaschalk, who snared the ball out of the air before it had a chance to cross the goal line.
The Mounties (14-4-4) will return to the pitch on Tuesday when they face Lancaster Mennonite, the District 3 runner-up at either Central Mountain High School or back at Tiger Stadium.
The time and site will be announced later today.
Philipsburg-Osceola0 3 - 3
Bellefonte0 0 - 0
PO-Gray (Golemboski), 60:55. PO-Kristofits, (unassisted), 63:55. PO-Kristofits, (unassisted), 70:18.
Shots: Bellefonte 19, P-O 24.
Saves: Bellefonte (Kaschalk) 9, P-O (Prentice) 7.
Corners: Bellefonte 3, P-O 5.