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BOYS SOCCER: Defense Defines Destiny for PCL Finalists Father Judge and La Salle

By John Knebels - Photos: Donna Eckert, 10/29/21, 1:00PM EDT


Photos/Videos: Donna Eckert & John Knebels

By: John Knebels

PHILADELPHIA – One of the best parts of late October is watching Philadelphia Catholic Leagueplayoff soccer. Because of the players’ outrageous talent, the coaches’ fierce dedication, and boisterous fan bases, it seems like every game is nerve racking and ultimately memorable. 

This fall was certainly no exception.

In a riveting doubleheader Wednesday night at Ramp Playground, Father Judge edged Lansdale Catholic, 1-0, followed by La Salle nipping Roman Catholic, 2-1, in overtime. The three-seed Crusaders and top-seed Explorers will return to Ramp Saturday night and compete for the PCL crown.

Father Judge vs. Archbishop Wood - 2021 PCL Semifinal Highlights by Donna Eckert:

La Salle vs. Roman Catholic - 2021 PCL Semifinal Highlights by PSD's Donna Eckert:

“It was another exciting day for the PCL playoffs,” said Judge coach John Dunlop. “Lansdale Catholic has been playing well at the end of the season, so we knew we would have our hands full tonight. For us, it was a great team effort. We were much more balanced at both ends of the fields tonight.”

With 15 minutes remaining in regulation, Father Judge sophomore Dane Pizzaro served a perfect pass to first-team All-Catholic sophomore Abou Cherif, who broke the tie and sent Crusader fans into a loud frenzy.

Unbendable defense and second-team All-Catholic senior goalie Bobby Mulvenna did the rest, as seven-seed Lansdale Catholic’s furious late-season rally – which included a shocking 3-0 regular-season win over La Salle and a 3-2 overtime upset versus two-seed Archbishop Wood in the quarterfinals – came to a close. Fortunately, however, Lansdale Catholic will represent the PCL in the PIAA Class 2A district final.

“It’s great to get a shutout any time and help the team out,” said Mulvenna. “Our defense really stepped up today like they have all season. When Abou scored for us, I was really confident just because of the way our team was playing with everyone working back on defense.”

La Salle’s win over Roman Catholic required a comeback. The Explorers fell behind 1-0 on a first-half goal by third-team All-Catholic senior Timmy Kane. In the second half, a perfectly executed free kick resulted in La Salle first-team All-Catholic senior Sean Jennings tying the game.

In overtime, La Salle controlled the tempo. On a free kick from the 18-yard line, first-team All-Catholic junior Seth Michalak booted a line drive arc toward the cage, where senior Tim Madden’s leaping header found mesh.

“We kind of just crashed the box,” said Michalak. “We played a great ball in and Tim just came in and did his job and finished the ball. That’s all you can ask for.”

PSD's Players of the Game were awarded to Father Judge sophomore Abou Cherif and La Salle senior Tim Madden for their game-winning goals, propelling their teams to the PCL Championship - Photo by Donna Eckert

The overtime heroes spent more time praising their opponent than analyzing the win. The loss ended Roman Catholic’s streak of six straight championship appearances.

Michalak described the Cahillites as “grinders” and “persistent.” He cited regular-season battles with the PCL’s top teams as an integral aspect of La Salle’s preparation for the postseason. 

Madden said Roman Catholic’s ability to push the contest into an extra session did not surprise him in the least.

“Roman showed a lot of determination and grit,” said Madden. “They’re a really hard-playing team. I think tonight was just an example that we can show the same grit and determination. They’re a very dangerous team. Everybody knew that one goal wasn’t going to be enough. They can score at any moment.”

After La Salle’s 2-1 PCL semifinal overtime victory, goal scorer Tim Madden (left) and assist man Jake Yuskevich describe the game-winner:

La Salle coach Tom McCaffery compliments the efforts of both his team and Roman Catholic after 2-1 PCL semifinal overtime victory:

La Salle coach Tom McCaffery followed suit.

“Roman put so much into this effort tonight,” said McCaffery. “It was a tremendous game plan from the coaches. It was tremendous effort on the young men from on their side.

“It’s great to see hard work pay off for our young men. It was a really solid result for us when there were times tonight where Roman was better than us. That’s something we have to work on before Saturday.”

In the two teams’ regular-season encounter on October 5, La Salle emerged with a 2-1 victory in overtime. Since then, Father Judge has won five straight with four shutouts.

For La Salle, if eliminating the aforementioned 3-0 loss at Lansdale Catholic on October 8, the Explorers have surrendered only eight goals against PCL opponents, and only four in their last nine games.

The Explorers have won the last two and PCL titles, three of the past four, and five of the past nine. They are 10-4 since their first championship appearance in 1993.

The Crusaders’ last PCL title occurred in 2013. The previous two seasons, they lost to La Salle in the final – 2-1 in overtime in 2011, and 3-0 in 2012. Judge’s last appearance in the final was a 2015 loss to Roman Catholic in a game decided by penalty kicks after a scoreless regulation and two overtime periods. 

(Contact John Knebels at or on Twitter.)