It wasn't long ago when the West Allegheny boys soccer team was viewed as an also-ran in Class AA. But 10th-year coach Kevin Amos' bunch can now lay claim to being one of the top dogs in the WPIAL.
The No. 1 Indians won their first WPIAL title Saturday, defeating Section 5 rival and No. 3 South Fayette, 1-0, in the WPIAL Class AA final at Highmark Stadium. West Allegheny is the only undefeated boys soccer team in the WPIAL.
"I haven't slept in a few days," Amos said with a laugh. "It's just a great journey. I feel great for the kids and the coaches. All the fans, they came out, they were great."
It was the third meeting this year between the Indians (18-0-3) and Lions (17-3-2), with the first two ending in ties. It also was the first appearance in the Class AA final for both teams. South Fayette reached the Class A final once, in 2002.
West Allegheny lost 56 of its first 77 games under Amos. A decade into his tenure, the Indians now reach the playoffs perennially thanks to a talented roster and attacking philosophy.
But in this showdown, all the goal-scoring West Allegheny needed was produced by its defense.
Following a cleared corner kick early in the first half, West Allegheny left back Josh Kolarac delivered a near-post cross that met the head of fellow defender Patrick Harmon and found its way into the back of the South Fayette net.
"We knew we pretty much had to keep a clean sheet to win this game because they would not let up more than one goal," West Allegheny center back Zach Graziani said. "So we knew ... if we did our job in the back, we could win this game."
As the second half opened with a chilling rain blanketing the suddenly flood-lit field, South Fayette opened its attack with speed and intent.
"I think that our kids came out and showed a lot of heart in the second half," South Fayette coach Rob Eldridge said. "There's not one ounce of disappointment in terms of my kids and the effort they made."
But scoring chances were hard to come by for South Fayette as West Allegheny countered by adding an extra defender to its back line. The Indians contained most of the Lions offense and sealed their fifth consecutive shutout along with the WPIAL title.
"It's a cliché, but you can't describe it. You really can't," Graziani said. "Four years of high school, two years of middle school, all the youth soccer, club. It goes into this moment."
Sewickley Academy triumphs
Striving for years to meet the constant weight of expectations, Sewickley Academy's 12 seniors finally can claim WPIAL title.
The top-seeded Panthers captured the WPIAL Class A title when they defeated No. 6 Beaver County Christian School, 3-0, at Highmark Stadium.
"I always thought we were going to get [a WPIAL title] through my sophomore, junior and senior seasons, and it just didn't pan out the last two years," senior midfielder Steve Munn said. "But this year we were finally able to do it."
Sewickley Academy (17-3) coach Jim Boone was impressed with his team's performance.
"I'm very excited for the players, they did an excellent job," he said. "We played a great team, BCC. We saw them twice this year, they're in our section. Very good team, very competitive."
Sewickley Academy took both games in the season series en route to the Class A Section 5 title, blowing out the Eagles (15-5-4) in their first meeting before taking a narrow 2-1 victory in their second encounter.
But miscues Saturday hurt Beaver County Christian.
"They're too good of a team to give goals away to," Eagles coach Steve Warden said. "We just didn't have our game."
Sewickley Academy opened the scoring about eight minutes in when senior defender Jack Matten capitalized on a rebound from Munn's free kick. Senior forward Anthony Stinson doubled that lead at the 8:29 mark
An own goal in the final minutes of the half gave the Panthers their final margin of victory.
It's the sixth WPIAL title for Sewickley Academy and its first since 2007. The Panthers went on to win the PIAA title that year.