Raiders down Rovers, advance to title game
DUBOIS — Brookville head coach Dan Smith has won his share of memorable games during his five-year run as the leader of the Raiders.
It's safe to say that Tuesday night's 2-1 win over Brockway just moved near the top of that list.
In a game that the Raiders clearly wanted to win about as much as a team could display, Brookville got the better of the Rovers after failing to beat them in two previous meetings this season during a District IX Class A semifinal playoff game at Clarion University's Memorial Stadium.
Trumping the fact that Brookville finally got the monkey off its back by taking down Brockway is that the Raiders have now advanced to the championship, where they will square off with top-seeded Northern Potter at 8 p.m. Thursday in DuBois.
Northern Potter defeated Coudersport in the other semifinal Tuesday night, 2-1.
"We told ourselves we wanted to be (a district-contending team)," Smith said. "We said a couple of years ago that our goal was to get to the district final each year. We say it every year, so I'm glad to see us get there, coming up as the No. 7 seed."
Brookville, which fields a roster small in numbers, has struggled this season to keep a healthy lineup on the field.
Now, the Raiders finally have their full squad, and it's becoming evident to the rest of the district that a full Brookville team is truly a dangerous team.
Brookville's latest victim: Brockway.
"We've always played Brockway close. We felt like if we could get to full strength, we'd like our chances," Smith said. "I just felt good coming into it. I was happy with the Karns City win and the way the bracket sorted out to come and play Brockway. I just liked the feeling. I liked our chances."
Smith's confidence was channeled through his team, as the Raiders, aside from the opening minutes of the game when both teams were still feeling each other out, outplayed the Rovers on both ends of the field.
Both teams traded great scoring opportunities early that were thwarted by great goalkeeping, including a huge save by Brookville keeper Dan Ion just four minutes into the game that kept the contest scoreless.
The game remained without a goal until the final five minutes of the first half.
Brookville junior Seth Connor was working along the sideline against a Brockway defender when he hit a hard ball low toward the goal from about 40 yards out. A Rover tried to clear, but the ball squirted between his legs, and rewarded for his relentless pressure was Patrick Vroman on the other side.
Vroman took the loose ball, drove near the side of the net and drilled it past the Brockway keeper for the first score of the game with 4:34 left in the first half.
"I keep saying that it was a typical Pat Vroman goal," Smith said. "They start about 30 yards out, and he pounds his way down through three guys. It's not always pretty, but he's a guy who is headstrong for the net."
The Raiders maintained that lead into halftime and kept the pressure up with the start of the second half.
Brookville continued to maintain possession throughout the second half, which eventually forced a huge mistake by Brockway — a mistake that led to the game-winning goal.
With Brookville putting pressure on the Rovers in Brockway's own half of the field, Brookville's Brett Smith found himself with the ball near him in the box when he was tripped, forcing the officials to call a foul, and awarding the Raiders a penalty kick.
The sure-footed A.J. Moore lined up the kick and hit a laser into the left corner of the net to give Brookville a 2-0 lead and all the momentum it needed with just 23:54 left in the game.
"It was a trip in the box. Whether it was before or after the ball passed play, I don't know," Smith said. "A.J. did a nice job to bury that one in the side net. There's no stopping that one, even if you get the jump."
With the game in hand and the issue no longer in doubt, Brockway broke free with the clock in its final seconds and scored on a Phil Esposito shot with six seconds left in the game.