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Wellsboro defeats Athens in boys soccer, 2-1

With less than two minutes remaining in a 1-1 match, having won a free kick 35 yards from goal, it would have been perfect time for Wellsboro standout midfielder Will Poirier to score a free kick goal. After all, he had scored multiple in his career, including one against Athens last year on the same field.

Yet, Poirier was on the bench, having to sit out five minutes due to a yellow card. Instead, Dustin Benedict stepped up to the ball. The junior midfielder plays in a more defensive role usually, but he scored one of the most important goals in the history of Wellsboro boys soccer. Benedict’s shot never seemed to come down and it found the back of the net right over Athens goalie Asher Ellis, giving Wellsboro a lead it didn’t relinquish en route to a 2-1 win.

“At first I thought it had gone over,” said Wellsboro coach Todd Fitch. “It took me a second to realize it was in the back of the net. Once I realized it was in, it was awesome.”

“I thought I hit it way long, through the (football) uprights” said Benedict, who also plays for the football team. “When it went in it was the best feeling ever.”

Given what was on the line, the feeling was understandable. Athens has won the league six years in a row, and the last five years Wellsboro has finished as runner up. Neither team has lost to anyone but each other in that span in the NTL. Yet, Wellsboro had not beat Athens since 2014, and it looked like they’d struggle again early on.

Wellsboro dominated the first 15 minutes and near misses by Owen Richardson, Jack Poirier, and Joe Grab made it feel like Wellsboro would be the first team to score.

Athens had other ideas. With just over 22 minutes remaining in the first half, Daniel Horton received a pass in midfield, dribbled and hit a perfect shot that went over the head of Wellsboro goalkeeper Ethan Ryan. Ryan was in perfect position on the play, but it was a perfect shot.

“We didn’t close him down in the midfield,” said Fitch. “It was disheartening to see it go in.”

Surely, the defensive minded Wildcats couldn’t have complained about the start to the game against a Wellsboro first team that had scored 24 goals in under 100 minutes coming in.

“You can’t let a team like Athens get confidence,” said Fitch.

Wellsboro answered back, though. With 10:11 remaining in the first half, Will Poirier played 50-goal scorer Kaeden Mann in behind the Wildcat backline. Mann was fouled and Wellsboro was awarded a penalty.

“I asked Kaeden if he wanted to take it and he said no,” said Poirier.

Poirier didn’t hesitate. Wellsboro’s normal penalty taker waited until the last second to open up his hips, sending the keeper to the left while calmly slotting the ball into the right corner.

“We needed that to get our confidence back,” Fitch said.

As in the first half, Wellsboro controlled much of the match in the second half but it was not until Benedict’s free kick that Wellsboro finally broke through and got a huge monkey off their back.

“Athens came in here prepared,” Fitch said. “They did things a little different than I thought they would and give credit to (Athens Head Coach) Jake (Lizak). He’s a great coach and his results speak for themselves.”

For now, Wellsboro, a program which lost in the PIAA Class A quarterfinals just three years ago, is finally in the driver’s seat for the program’s first overall NTL title.

“We can take this and get better,” said Fitch.

Wellsboro had 10 shots on goal and nine corner kicks. Ethan Ryan had six saves in goal. Athens had seven shots on goal and three corners. Ellis had eight saves in goal.

Wellsboro 2, Athens 1

W–Will Poirier (penalty kick), 29:29. A–Daniel Horton, 17:43. W–Dustin Benedict, 38:00.

Shots: W 10, A 6. Corners: W 9, A 3. Saves: W 5 (Ethan Ryan), A 2 (Asher Ellis).

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