ADAMS TWP — Laurel Highlands saw an opening, but Mars closed it in the final seconds.
The Planets held a 3-0 lead in its WPIAL Class AA first-round boys soccer game with 10 minutes to play before the Mustangs broke through with a pair of goals — the second with one minute remaining in regulation.
The Mustangs earned a free kick from about 35 yards out with 11 seconds to go, but a Mars defender blocked the shot 10 yards away and the Planets held on for the 3-2 victory.
“I like to get players some time when I can,” said Mars coach Chris Knauff about mixing some younger players into the game late. “It didn't work out well, but we won, but it put us on our back foot.
“It's not because of the players. (Laurel Highlands) made some nice plays,” Knauff added.
The Mustangs' Ryan Gesso fired a shot from 25 yards out that hit the right post and ricocheted in with 9:55 to play to make it a two-goal game.
When Drew DeBerry smacked a header off a long shot from Aaron Hanzes with one minute remaining, the Mustangs made it 3-2, then worked the ball down the field once more before getting its final opportunity — one that could have tied the game.
“We have a lot of juniors and sophomores on the pitch,” said Mustangs second-year coach Zach Sipe. “Our guys played with a lot of heart.
“At the start of the year, we were outshooting our opponents, but not getting the goals. We got into the playoffs and won a play-in to get here,” Sipe added.
Neither team could get a quick jump, though Mars had more opportunities. Mustangs goalie Jake Mansberry made several nice saves before Adam Natale put in a shot that had deflected off the post with 7:25 left in the first half.
“When an underdog plays a favorite, the more time that goes before someone scores, the momentum and their confidence gets better,” Knauff said. “I thought my guys did a nice job and kept pushing.”
Spencer Posey headed a high kick from teammate Dave Jackson past Mansberry with 33:17 left in regulation for a 2-0 lead and the Planets appeared to have the breathing room they needed.
“Mars is a heck of a team,” Sipe said. “With Posey on top, he creates a lot of things for a lot of players around him.”
Matt White scored off a Natale pass shortly thereafter and Mars seemed to be in control, but the Mustangs (12-7-2) remained determined.
“Once you get that first goal, they have to push the numbers forward,” Knauff said.
Next up, Mars (16-2-1) will play Indiana — a 3-2 winner over Shady Side Academy — Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
Notes: Mansberry made 11 saves, while Mars keeper Joe Kelly made three stops. ... Laurel Highlands had defeated West Mifflin 1-0 on Saturday to face the Planets.
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