HERSHEY — “Unbreakable.”
That was the Mars boys soccer team's motto this season.
Friday's PIAA Class 3A title game against Northern York afforded the Planets one final chance to show that it's not just a word, but a mentality.
Mars capped an undefeated season with a come-from-behind, 2-1 victory over the Polar Bears at Hersheypark Stadium.
Trailing 1-0 since the 17th minute, Mars senior forward Dane Beller scored two goals in a span of just 1 minute, 48 seconds of the second half and the Planets held on for their first-ever PIAA crown.
“I felt we would connect at some point,” said Beller, who finished the season with a school-record 38 goals in one campaign. “This is a great way to top it off.”
In the 49th minute, Beller headed to the sideline after being issued a yellow card in Mars' attacking third.
“There was a bit of frustration on my part, but I don't know 100 percent if I deserved that,” said Beller. “It is what it is. We worked through it.”
Beller returned to the field five minutes later.
“I told him to not worry about the card,” said Mars coach Chris Knauff. “Keep working, keep playing hard and going into tackles like he normally does.”
Beller received a pass from Devin Schupp in the 62nd minute and booted a shot past Northern goalkeeper Josh Hoffman.
Before the Polar Bears had much chance to answer, Beller made an impressive move to get past a Northern defender 10 yards in front of the net and scored again.
“I knew we would get one (goal),” said Knauff. “We just couldn't allow them to get a second one.”
Mars goalkeeper Jake Gareis kept the Polar Bears (19-1-1) out of the net for the final 16 minutes. He had allowed Northern to take the lead in the first half when Brandon Rice assisted on Connor Swope's goal.
“They're a great team,” Gareis said of Northern. “They pass and move the ball well.
“To be standing here as a state champion, it's crazy.”
Northern was able to put heavy pressure on Mars' net throughout the first half, but it was back-to-back misses in the second half that haunted coach Gaz Davies after the game.
In the 44th minute, Caleb Brown's shot from 25 yards was too high for Gareis and smacked off the top right post. Swope gained possession and got a shot off that sailed just wide left of the net.
“I kept saying, 'I want that chance back,'” Davies said. “A second goal there would have been huge. We've been susceptible to giving up at least one goal in games this season.”
Of Beller's game-tying score, Davies remarked: “It makes me sick to think about it. Our boys remained on their heels and Mars (21-0) penetrated immediately.”
The Planets' clutch play late came as no surprise to Knauff.
“No matter what happened this season, we kept working,” he said. “Good things happen when you keep working.
“We are a super-fit team,” added Knauff. “We push you and grind you and most teams can't sustain that.”
Mars had its own near-misses, most coming in the first half.
Four corner kicks in the first 40 minutes, along with shots from Beller and Schupp, all went for naught.
Tyler Nymberg had a shot deflect off of Hoffman in the 56th minute, six minutes before Beller got the Planets on the board.
Gareis contributed six saves to the effort, including a deflection of a shot in the waning moments. It resulted in a Northern corner kick, successfully defended by Mars.
Hoffman stopped nine shots.
Knauff coached the Planets to the PIAA Class 2A title game in 2007, but the Planets fell to Palmyra.
Perhaps the memory of how that game turned out made Friday's victory just a bit sweeter.
“It feels great,” he said. “I couldn't ask for anything more from these guys.”