WEXFORD — Chris Knauff believes his Mars boys soccer team has the uncanny ability to make plays in the most crucial moments.
Did the Planets ever prove him right Thursday night.
Trailing Franklin Regional 1-0 at halftime of the WPIAL Class 3A championship game, Mars received a goal from Tyler Nymberg in the 55th minute.
Dane Beller then extended himself to reach a deflected shot with 3:53 left in the first overtime, earning for Mars the program's third district championship with a 2-1 victory at North Allegheny's Newman Stadium.
“Time was winding down and we were getting tired,” said Beller. “We needed a goal and I knew I had to put my body on the line.”
“We went down a goal and Franklin Regional was all over us,” said Knauff. “But we kept playing, kept pushing and knew we could come back.”
Franklin Regional (16-3), which was attempting to win its third straight WPIAL championship, controlled play for much of the game, but like Mars' attack, the defense and goalkeeper Jake Gareis found a way to survive.
Three times in the first half, a Panther shot was blocked by a Mars player standing just in front of the Planet net. Devin Shupp, Ryan Pasko and Brady Nihoff were in the right place at the right time to keep the game scoreless.
“If a team is going to beat us, they have to go through all of us,” Knauff said. “That's our motto.”
But Mars (18-0) allowed a goal to Anthony DiFalco just 50 seconds before halftime.
“We weren't really worried at that point,” said Beller. “We knew we just had to keep going hard.”
Nymberg's tying goal came with a great individual effort. He took control of the ball along the left sideline and managed to keep the ball inbounds despite being pressed by a Panther defender for 15 yards.
The Planets are scheduled to open the PIAA tournament Saturday against District 6 champ Hollidaysburg.