BY JEREMY GOODE
(PHOTOS BY MIKE NANCE)
HAVERFORD, PA--Inter-Ac conference soccer runs through the Haverford School.
After winning the Inter-Ac championship for boys soccer in 2022, the Haverford School Fords went on a mission of sweater hunting. They repeated as Inter-Ac Champions on Sat. Nov. 11, on their own campus in front of hundreds of spectators, defeating Episcopal Academy 3-1 on Haverford/EA Day. A Day filled with spirited competition dating back to 1980.
“It’s been a tremendous year with tremendous senior leadership and guys stepping up throughout the year,” Haverford head coach Keith Cappo said. “I’m just extremely proud of what they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished…. And it’s a good way to end the year.”
The Fords had several goals going into the 2023 season. Winning on EA Day; check. Winning the Inter-Ac; check. Both happened on the same day… the last day of the season.
Going into the match, Haverford controlled their own destiny. Win, and they would repeat as Inter-Ac champs. Tie or draw, and they would have to wait to see what Penn Charter did that day.
Interestingly enough, Haverford would face some adversity early on, something they had not experienced much of all season. With the game scoreless, Episcopal took a perfectly placed free kick from 25 yards out, which was perfectly headed to the back left corner of the net to give the Churchmen a 1-0 led with 14:24 left in the first half.
“I think it was uncharacteristic of us on defending a set play and give away a free runner there,” Cappo said. “It was a little bit of a taste of our own medicine from a set-play standpoint.”
The Fords' goalkeeper Connor Cresswell knew that goals happen, and he knew that he and his teammates would respond.
“Their goal was a very nice goal. Unfortunately, we missed our markings,” Cresswell said. “It happens. It’s unfortunate; just have to take a deep breath and settle into the game even more than we originally were.”
Even getting bitten by a play that Haverford has executed perfectly time after time this season, Cappo knew his team would have their own chances and was not too alarmed to be trailing Episcopal at that stage.
“When you have those leaders… six or seven guys on the field who have been in this situation and can deal with the crowd and all that kind of stuff, I was pretty confident that we were going to score a goal.”
A goal… try three.
Enter Ben Hoyt.
Throughout the first half, Haverford would have plenty of opportunities off of set plays, especially corner kicks. With just under four minutes remaining in the half, Haverford forced a corner kick. Sebastian Perez-Gasiba put the ball on net. There was a scuffle in front of the net with the loose ball until Hoyt was able to poke his foot ahead, scoring to tie the game at one with 3:54 left in the half.
Moments later, Hoyt would score the game winner. It was a similar type of play; this time, it was a deep throw-in from Haverford next to the corner flag. Once again, similar situation: scuffle in front of the net for a moment, and then Hoyt would locate the ball and kick it through. It was 2-1 Haverford with 1:53 seconds remaining in the first half, eventually going into half time with the same score.
“On the first goal, I noticed the goalie kept making the same mistake in coming out early, so I just capitalized on that and was there at the right moment,” Hoyt said. “It was a little lucky, but I’ll take it.”
Up a goal early into the second half, the Fords knew how close they were to repeating as champions. So, why not put the game away early into the second half? That’s ultimately what Haverford would do.
Just over 90 seconds into the half, it appeared that Haverford scored their third goal off a corner kick, although officiating allowed both teams to play on without signaling a goal. Nevertheless, Haverford would force another corner kick shortly after, this time executing a header to the back of the net, giving the Fords a 3-1 advantage with 37:07 left in the match.
There is just something about this Haverford team and its set-plays.
“We’ve been doing this all season,” Hoyt said. “We’re probably scored 75 percent of our goals from set pieces. We work on it all the time and we’re just there to capitalize.”
Haverford School Earns Bragging Rights Retains Split Sweater for Another Year. (Photo/ Mike Nance)
The rest would be history.
Cresswell would remain strong in front of goal, saving double digit shots and punching out or securing any threat in front of him. The Fords’ back line would also remain strong, killing any form of offense Epsicopal tried to build up in the remaining 40 minutes, while quickly getting the ball to midfielders and forwards in their effort to widen the lead.
“Obviously, I know what my job is: my job is to keep the ball out of the net,” Cresswell said. “I felt I did a pretty good job of that today, and big ups to everybody on the field who put three in the back of their net… It makes my life so much easier.”
Although not new to the championship scene, Cresswell’s joy still felt fresh.
“Coming in sophomore year to this school, if you would have told me this is how my high school soccer career would end, I’d be elated,” Cresswell said. “It’s such a great moment; I’m so grateful for it. This team ran so deep; we could pull someone off the bench and they would keep the level the same if not better.”
The team lost a lot of players from last year’s championship team, and most did not know how the team would fare this year. The Fords approached the summer offseason seriously, and early training helped them get to this point.
“It’s been a journey for sure,” Hoyt said. “We started off the season not knowing what the team was going to look like. We lost a lot of big players last year. But we were out there starting in June, working all summer, running…. It paid off.”
While the win against Episcopal helped Haverford keep the ceremonial "Sweater" that each school plays for every year, it also clinched the Fords an Inter-Ac title. Penn Charter, the second-best team in the league, won earlier in the day, putting pressure on the Fords. A Haverford tie would have the Fords and Quakers as co-champions. A Haverford loss would have exclusively given Penn Charter the Inter-Ac title.
As for Cappo, a Penn Charter alum and 1998 Inter-Ac champion as a student during his senior year, he understands the significance of winning Inter-Ac championships, even if it comes at the expense of crossed loyalty in his family.
“As an alum of Penn Charter, it is bittersweet,” Cappo said. “My family probably won’t talk to me for a couple days… but it’s just great to come out on top."
So, under Cappo’s timeframe, he should be good to go in bragging about his repeat championship at the Haverford School by Thanksgiving.