MECHANICSBURG, Pa. – Just call it the Miracle in Mechanicsburg.
Down 2-1 with under four minutes to play, Cathedral Prep got a tying goal from James DiSanza and then the game-winning goal from Dylan Danch five minutes into the second overtime to win the first outright boys’ state soccer title in school history with a 3-2, two-overtime victory over Springfield Township in the PIAA Class 3A championship game Saturday night at Bobby Rahal Field at Eagle View Middle School.
“You always dream of this moment,” Danch, who knocked in the rebound after Springfield keeper Owen Hastings punched out a shot by Noah Handzel. “I think everybody dreams of this moment. I was there at the right time.”
The play started with a Kwame Anim-Soumah pass from just outside his own box to Cameron Dunbar who, after a few dribbles, fed a steaking Handzel down the middle of the feed.
Handzel went one-on-one with Chase Rubincam and used Rubincam as a screen on a shot to the right side of the net. Hastings was able to dive over and punch it out. But the ball came right to Danch, who chipped it high into the middle of the net for the championship winner.
“(Noah) hit the shot, and I was there at the right time,” Danch said. “I am just glad I was there.”
Danch had plenty more to say about the victory
Handzel, who had the Ramblers’ first goal of the night just over 10 minutes into the second half, said when he got the ball he knew good things were happening.
“My main attribute is driving at people and causing terror,” Handzel said. “That is what I did. I got it and beat him, and I shot right with somebody going in. I just see Dylan go zoom right down the line, and he just taps it in. After that it is amazing.
“I knew once I shot the ball and saw Dylan right there he was putting that in the back of the net. There is nothing sweeter than that.”
While there isn’t anything sweeter than a championship-winning goal, a late goal to tie the game and give yourself a chance is right up there.
Things looked bleak for Cathedral Prep, the District 10 champion, after Harry Bates broke a 1-all tie when he took a crossing feed from Riley Martin and slid the ball into a yawning net to give the Spartans, the D2 runner-up, a 2-1 lead with 5:52 to play.
But the Ramblers wasted little time getting the equalizer when a foul was called on Rubincam about three to six feet outside the box to the left of the net setting up a free kick from Max Johnson.
Johnson lofted a perfect pass to DiSanza, who was able to head the ball into the net to tie the game at two.
“The ball came in from Max,” DiSanza said. “I knew I could do it. I had faith in my team, I had faith in Max. We work on that all the time. The coaches believe in us.”
DiSanza discussed the goal and the championship
Cathedral Prep head coach Sam Tojaga made a tactical adjustment after Springfield Township took the 2-1 lead.
“As soon as that goal went in, we went to a 3-4-3,” Tojaga said. “We took a guy off and put another guy up front. We are really good on set pieces through this playoff run. James DiSanza, the two biggest goals I’ve ever coached. He’s a freshman. It blows me away.”
In the first overtime, Springfield Township had a couple of golden opportunities to win the title including Bates just missing to the right of the next 2:50 into the frame.
The Spartans also had a corner with about 8:10 left that ended in two chances knocked away by the Rambers and then had two more corners within 30 seconds of each other at 3:50 and 3:18 with Anim-Soumah clearing the second one from danger.
Handzel had Cathedral Prep’s best chance to win the game in the first overtime with just over two minutes left, but Hasting made a diving save to his left, and the game went to a second overtime.
Handzel had two golden opportunities early in the second OT to end the contest only to have Hastings save the first one 20 seconds into the second overtime and have the second one go left with 18:37 to play.
But despite those opportunities not falling, Handzel never lost faith that his team was going to win the game.
“I knew it was going to go our way no matter what,” Handzel said. “The amount of chances we had and everything, it was going to fall to someone.”
Cathedral Prep trailed 1-0 at halftime after a Springfield Township goal late in the first half off the head of Martin who rammed home a pass from Kayden Sowell with 2:36 to play in the half.
Only a great save by Tyler Chermack at the first-half horn kept the Ramblers down just a goal.
After a foul as time was winding down in the half on Cathedral Prep gave Springfield Township a free kick that Nicholas Marino quickly sent toward the goal. The ball was headed by Bates and looked destined for the left side of the net when Chermack reached back awkwardly to his left as his momentum went to his right and punched the ball just wide of the post.
Cathedral Prep then tied the game just under 12 minutes into the second half when Danch touched a through ball to the Handzel and Hastings came way out of his net to challenge.
Handzel went right around the Spartan keeper and had an empty net to touch the ball into for the game-tying tally.
“We knew we had to get a quick start (in the second half),” Handzel said. “The function of momentum. I knew once I put that ball in the net, we were back in the game.”
For Cathedral Prep it is the first outright soccer championship for a school that has seen so much success in other sports.
“When you coach at Cathedral Prep, there is a standard of excellence there across all programs,” Tojaga said. “I think we just got our ticket to the party type thing. First time in my 19 years. I have had a lot of great teams, but to finally bring a state title to a place like Prep with the excellence and the super high expectations, to meet those expectations feels great.”
Prep is the first District 10 boys team to win an outrighrsoccer team title and just the fourth D10 team to take home soccer gold joining the Mercyhurst Prep girls (2010 and 2017) and the Villa Maria girls (2015). The Ramblers did share the title in 2001 when PIAA officiaks declared a tie gane over and lost their other state title game appearance in 1997.
“This is history,” Handzel said. “And I just did it with my best friends who I have been playing with forever. I can’t put into words what this means not just for me but for my coaches, my teammates. We have been fighting for this for four years. It is a dream come true. We finally did it in my last game ever.”
Watch Handzel’s full postgame interview
Watch the Ramblers get their medals and state championship trophy
Editor’s note – The original version of this story didn’t acknowledge that Prep shared the title in 2001 with Strath Haven and that this the first outright title