Howard Hanna Professionals
Hornets sweep season series with Athens

Hornets sweep season series with Athens

By: Garrett Carr  /  October 14, 2020  /  Photo: David Alliger/Traveling Portraits

Kaeden Mann has scored a lot of goals for Wellsboro. He has not scored many easier goals than his second goal last night.

Wellsboro took the kickoff of the second half, passed around the Athens defense, and Jack Poirier beat the Athens left back to the end line. His cutback cross was inch perfect to Mann, and Mann calmly struck it in from four yards out into an open net. Whatever doubt there was before that goal and Tuesday night's contest between perennial NTL and District IV powers Wellsboro and Athens about who ruled the NTL this year were no longer.

Mann's goal, his second of the night, gave Wellsboro a 3-0 lead, a scoreline that would not change as Wellsboro all but clinched their first ever NTL overall title. Athens has won the previous six league titles, with Wellsboro finishing second all six years.

"These boys have a swagger," Wellsboro head coach Todd Fitch said. "They believe they can play at a high level."

That they did. The midfield trio of Will Poirier, Owen Richardson and Dustin Benedict controlled midfield. Richardson especially was all over the field Thursday night. Whether it was to support the attack or to track back and defend, Richardson got the job done. In a two minute stretch in the second half, Richardson was involved in battles on each goal line.

"Going down to the field (to work out) when no one else is there," Richardson said when asked how he has the energy to play so hard for 80 minutes. "That extra work, that's what makes you a better player."

The game nearly had a very different story. Wellsboro controlled the first fifteen minutes, but then Athens created their best chance of the match. Nate Quinn received a pass with acres of space 14 yards from goal, right of the penalty spot. Quinn's right footed shot beat Wellsboro goalkeeper Ethan Ryan, but did not beat the far post. The ball clanged off the post, and Wellsboro cleared the ball and avoided gong down 1-0. It would have been a crucial first goal for Athens, who needed a win to tie Wellsboro in the NTL standings. A draw would have left Wellsboro in first place, via their 2-1 win over Athens earlier in the season.

"It changes the course of the game," Athens coach Jake Lezak said. "Going up 1-0 would’ve been huge for us."

Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Instead, Wellsboro got the first goal. An attempted through ball was deflected sky high into the air towards the penalty spot. Will Poirier spotted it and flew in, getting a head on it before a collision with the keeper. The referee awarded Wellsboro a penalty. Poirier, the normal penalty taker, was shaken up by the collision and told Mann to step up and take it.

"I was feeling the hit a little bit, so I told Kaeden it was his."

The prolific striker kept his career perfect record on penalties. Mann stepped up and hit a perfectly placed penalty under the upper right corner of the net, giving Wellsboro a 1-0 lead with 11:44 remaining in the first half. The goal moved Mann into second place on Wellsboro's scoring list, passing Brett Rudy.

"It just goes off of who is feeling the best, honestly," Mann said. "We trust each other."

Will Poirier is known for his dazzling skill but drawing the first penalty was all about hustle.

"I just saw the ball and went after it," said Poirier.

Wellsboro would score the backbreaking goal right before halftime. With :33 remaining in the half, Joe Grab had an inch perfect cross to Jack Poirier right on the doorstep of the far left post. All Jack Poirier had to do was get any sort of touch on it, and the sophomore made no mistake, giving Wellsboro a commanding 2-0 lead.

"Don't miss," Poirier said, when asked what he was thinking awaiting the cross.

The momentum continued for Wellsboro when Mann added the aforementioned third goal. As he has so many times in his career, Mann found himself in perfect position all alone.

"His movement is so dynamic," Fitch said.

Mann also drew numerous corner kicks in the match by pressuring defenders on the goal line.

"We want to press," said Mann. "We want to force the other team into mistakes."

The scoreline would have been more lopsided if not for the spectacular goalkeeping of Wildcat Asher Ellis. Ellis made two phenomenal second half saves and shut down a potent Wellsboro set piece attack to keep his team in the match.

"He was fantastic. We've known he was an amazing keeper for awhile," said Lezak.

For Wellsboro, it was a huge monkey off their back. For a program which has accomplished multiple trips to the state tournament, a district title, and a state quarterfinal appearance in the young history of the program, they had never won the overall NTL title. In 2011, they won the defunct NTL West. Furthermore, Athens, especially on the road, has been a bugaboo for Wellsboro, having only won at Athens one time in program history before Tuesday night, back in 2013. There have been situations previously where the Hornets needed a result at Athens and had not been able to get it done. That monkey is off their back.

"It feels great," Will Poirier said. "We've been working towards this since we were six."

The Wellsboro defense was fantastic, especially in the second half as senior Center Backs Zach Rowland and Zach Singer started to enforce their will on the match.

"They really controlled things and kept calm in the back," said Fitch. "This is a calm team."

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