Northern Tier Sports Report
Fans at the Northeast Bradford boys’ soccer matches this year could feel a lot of things - elation, exasperation, excitement, confusion, endearment…but they were never bored.

The Panthers went 9-9-1 overall, and the trip to getting there was as up-and-down as it comes. The injury bug gave them a visit at times to slip them up, and at other times they rose to the occasion in big moments.

“One of what I consider to be the biggest successes is the family atmosphere,” said coach Scott Merritt. “We talked about it often, but it only works if the kids buy into it. They did, and all the way through. There was a great mentoring from teammates to each other, and encouragement throughout, even when things were tough, games were tight, or during a loss, they stayed positive with each other. I could not ask for more than that. It’s easy to stay encouraging, and have good sportsmanship when you’re winning or things are going well, it’s more commendable to them that they did it even if they were going wrong. It allowed us to get back into games, and be the cardiac kids, or to pick ourselves up quickly, and get ready for the next game.”

Their first four matches were as exciting as could be - three one loss games, and a tie.

They opened things with a 3-2 overtime loss to Mountain View, then rallied to beat Troy 4-3 in their NTL opener. A 2-1 win over Williamson set up a 2-2 tie with the defending league champs Wellsboro. A more comfortable 6-2 win over NP-Liberty saw them improve to 3-1-1, and they were on their way to battling for a league title.

“We had a very good pre-season with the ark that was put in by all the kids,” said Merritt. “I feel we increased our level of competitiveness in all areas, some of that helped by fantastic seniors. Although, a great team atmosphere from the players may have been a big contributing factor. We had a big, family style thought process from the team as a whole, which was encouraging, and mentoring from all the players, no matter the age or skill level. The buy in in on that from all 16 kids was fantastic.”

Then the injuries hit. They went 0-2 at their home tournament, barely beat Galeton 4-3, then lost to Athens 5-0.

A win over Towanda (9-0) seemed to right the ship, but that was followed up with three straight losses. 

However, with their playoff hopes on the line they won three of their last four matches to qualify for districts, including a must have 2-1 win over Williamson to end the season.

It only seemed fitting that they won their playoff opener 4-3 in cardiac kids fashion, giving up a goal with less than a minute to play to knot things up at 3-all, only to get the winning goal with 16 seconds left.

They finished the season with a loss to Southern Columbia in the district semifinals.

“Our defense played well, and in some games was outstanding, often ramping it up in the second half,” said Merritt. “Some of their best work was done in the second half of the first Troy game, the whole game vs Williamson at Williamson, the whole game in the home match-up tie versus Wellsboro, the first half of the Athens game at Athens, and almost the game when we saw them at home. We shut out Troy at home, and had a great game against NPL.”

On the other side of the ball they were led by Brandon Kuhn and Gavin Merritt, both double digit scorers on the season. Kuhn earned his 50th career assists, while Merritt got his 50th career goal, both in the same game.

“Offensively, we were explosive most of the year, creating so many creative and fast attacks,” said Merritt. “We struggled to finish those attacks way too often, but the movement, thoughts, and runs were some of the best in the league.”

It will be new era in 2022, though, as they lose five starters to graduation, including long time goalie Garrett Cooper.

“This group will always be special to me,” said Merritt. “The five seniors will be missed greatly. One is my actual son, and I consider all the rest of them my sons, as well. Future teams will be different, maybe better, maybe not, but different all the same.”

He’s hopeful for the future, though, especially as they return key players in the midfield and on defense.

“We are looking at some very good kids coming up,” Merritt said. “There is a good amount of talent to pair with returning players. We will look to be just as competitive if possible, try to keep our good team attributes, and work and grow in areas we need to.”

Regardless, 2021 was definitely one to remember.

“I had fun this year,” said Merritt. “And, more importantly, I think our kids did as well.”

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