John Knebels

To say that it’s been a riveting Catholic League boys’ soccer season is an understatement.

Heading into this week’s final two regular-season games, three teams – Roman Catholic, Archbishop Wood, and LaSalle – were still battling for the top three seeds. With 10 playoff spots available (the top six teams draw a bye in the first round, with teams seven through 10 competing in a pre-seeding pre-quarterfinal), eight teams had clinched a playoff, but two openings remained.

Then came yesterday afternoon.

In a classic tilt between a desperate squad and another with absolutely nothing to lose, Bonner-Prendergast survived a monumental upset attempt by winless Bishop McDevitt, a 2-1, overtime victory that sealed the ninth playoff spot.

The remaining vacancy will be determined today when Cardinal O’Hara takes on Archbishop Ryan. O’Hara advances with a win or a tie; Ryan must win, or else miss the playoffs for only the second time (1990 would be the other) in its illustrious soccer history dating back to 1975.

“We went through adversity,” said Bonner senior goalie Mike Perretta. “I’m very proud of my team on how we fought through it and reached the playoffs.”

The previous game, Perretta and his teammates had blanked Ryan, 1-0. It is believed to be the first time any Bonner team, including the previous Msgr. Bonner, had shut out the Raiders.

“We were fired up from the start because we knew our season was on the line, so I just fed off our team’s energy,” said Perretta. “It was an all-around team effort, and it’s definitely a career highlight having a shutout in that big of a game.”

In the win over McDevitt, the Lancers jolted the favored Friars with an early goal to take a 1-0 lead. It was apparent that this would not be an easy affair.

The Friars didn’t expect to be nailed in the chin by an 0-11 team.

“I was shocked at first,” said senior Andrew Markopoulos. “But I knew we had time to take the game back over.”

With 14 minutes remaining, Markopoulos used that confidence to tie the game with the most important goal of his career, thus sending the contest into the always tantalizing sudden-death.

That’s when Bonner senior Cillian Gilsenan experienced his first-ever overtime game win six minutes into the extra session.

“I just remember the ball coming out from the box and I was standing around the 20-yard line,” said Gilsenan. “My first instinct was to just take a touch and shoot, and it turned out to be a pretty good hit and it went in.

“It was pretty exciting for my first overtime goal to be in such a big game.”

The Friars – exuberant and relieved – mobbed Gilsenan.

“My teammates and I are very happy that we got the result we needed,” said Markopoulos. “We now have confidence as we approach our first playoff game.”

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John Knebels can be reached at jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.