The key elements to the Potomac Falls High boys’ soccer team’s late season tear has been outstanding team work and step-up individual performances by some of the Panthers’ elite players.
Two of those players — senior midfielder Asa Fox and junior midfielder Conor Shanosky — both shined in leading Potomac Falls to a 2-1 overtime victory over Broad Run in last Saturday night’s Region II tournament title game played at Park View High School in Sterling.
It was the 10th win in a row for Potomac Falls (16-5-1), including six straight in postseason play. On May 22, the Panthers captured the Dulles District tournament crown with a 2-0 triumph over Park View.
At the ensuing regional playoffs, Potomac Falls defeated Orange County, 7-0, and Brentsville District, 2-1 in overtime, to reach the championship game versus district foe Broad Run.
"There’s a reason they’ve won 10 games in a row," said Broad Run coach Jonathan Hicks, who’s Spartans captured the regular season Dulles title this spring. "Their two players who scored against us — Conor and Asa — are two of the best around. Conor is probably one of the premier strikers in the state."
The finals contest was a gem with both Potomac Falls and Broad Run playing at a high level throughout the 40 minutes of regulation play and on into the extra sessions. It was late in the second, 5 minute overtime period where Shanosky, a tall, spectacular midfielder who had played brilliantly both offensively and defensively throughout the night, came up with perhaps the Panthers’ biggest goal of the season.
After receiving a pass from the left corner of the field from teammate George Echart, Shanosky drilled a 22-yard shot in from straight range. The ball struck off the left post and into the net, to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead with about 30 seconds remaining on the clock.
"Conor got possession and got himself positioned," said Potomac Falls coach Dave Gryder, of the scoring sequence. "He pulled off a [defensive] player, leaned back and hit it left footed with enough [power]. It hit off the left post."
Following an abbreviated Potomac Falls celebration as a result of the score, the game’s final moments were played out with Broad Run unable to tally the equalizer.
It was a thrilling win for Potomac Falls which, earlier this week, opened up play at the state AA tournament with a Tuesday quarterfinals home game against Grafton (Yorktown) out of the Bay Rivers District.
While Potomac Falls was set to host Grafton in state quarterfinals action, Broad Run was set to hit the road with a Tuesday game at Jamestown High (Williamsburg), the Region I champion and member of the Bay District.
"We’re going to states, we’re still playing," said Hicks, the Broad Run coach following the stinging loss to the Panthers.
<b>DURING POTOMAC FALLS’</b> tremendous 10-game win streak, three of the victories have come over Broad Run.
"I think our players have gotten better and I think their players have gotten better," said Gryder, of his team’s head-to-head matchups against the talented Broad Run team (15-7).
Earlier in the postseason, Potomac Falls had beaten Broad Run in the district semifinals.
Gryder said his team went into the region finals game against the Spartans motivated both by gaining the region title and earning the right to play a first round state playoff game at home.
"Both [Broad Run and us] are playing at states," said Gryder. "Knowing we had a chance to play at home, that was our big thing. [Our guys] knew what was at stake and they accomplished it. The game could have gone either way."
Potomac Falls scored the game’s lone goal in the first half, that coming when Fox, the Panthers’ standout midfielder, received the ball about 20 yards away from the Broad Run goal before dribbling through and around Spartan players, then knocking in a close range shot to make it 1-0 with just over seven minutes remaining in the half.
Broad Run came back early in the second half with a score of its own — a head-in goal from Kevin Reitzel off a corner kick assist from Danny Reategui less than four minutes into the half.
Both teams rushed the other team’s goal area relentlessly thereafter, but neither could score again in regulation. Finally, the Panthers broke through following nine-plus minutes of overtime to garner the win. Ryan Howard, the terrific Potomac Falls goaltender, earned the win in net.
<b>POTOMAC FALLS</b> had few believers this spring. The Panthers, in recent years, had won a state title and been a top contender behind superstar player Uche Onyeador, the state’s all-time leading goal scorer. But Onyeador graduated last spring as did several other key Panthers, leaving a relatively young squad for 2009.
Potomac Falls started off with a mundane 6-5-1 record before things began clicking. The Panthers, who won their final four regular season district games, were the No. 4-seed for the eight-team Dulles District playoffs. There, they won three straight to take the crown, and three more after that to gain the region championship.
"Uche was probably the best player to ever come through this area," said Gryder. "But this year we have a better overall team. We play as a team and don’t have to rely on one, two or three people."
Winning the region, while maybe not realistic to some, was on Potomac Falls’ radar all along.
"We’ve wanted this from the beginning of the season," said Fox. "No one really believed in us. The [region title win] was all desire and it came down to overtime."
Fox said teammate Shanosky’s game-winner goal was picture perfect.
"Conor’s a great player and put it away beautifully," said Fox. "It feels great to win. There was a lot of talk all year about Uche [Onyeador] no longer being here and that he was the best player in the state. But we have great players too."
Hicks was proud of his team’s all-out play in the region title match.
"They didn’t let down and fought hard," said the coach, of his players. "We had our chances. On another night it might have gone differently."