BENSALEM — Sun Valley defender Joey Capuano isn't trying to make a fashion statement.
The numerals comprising the "16' on his light blue jersey aren't two-tone for style's sake; it's just that the white iron-on decal for the "1,' through so many battles this season, has been ripped off and is left hanging by a threat, exposing the dark blue outline below.
Capuano's jersey epitomizes the attitude the Vanguards have shown all season: Not always pretty, but always resilient and often effective.
Tuesday night, though, the most successful season in almost a decade of Sun Valley soccer came to an end. Despite being within a goal with 15 minutes left, No. 9 seed Bensalem hit Sun Valley for three late tallies, furnishing a 5-1 score line in the opening round of the District One Class AAA tournament that was hardly indicative of the play on the field.
It appeared as though the come-from-behind mentality on which the No. 24 Vanguards had thrived all season would pay off for them again, as they weathered Bensalem's opening salvo, goals in the 11th and 13th minutes by Eric Corry and Christopher Juergensen, respectively.
It was a slow start for the visitors, no doubt, but they slowly came to terms with the pace of the game as the first half wore on.
"We just said that we had to keep pushing,' said Capuano, who along with Kevin Cullen put together a defensive effort the final score didn't do justice to. "We just weren't going to give up and roll over and let us kick us while we're down. We're a team that comes out and we fight till the end.'
When Brett Hollenback got the final touch on a Capuano long throw that pinballed around in the box and eventually into the net in the 46th minute, the belief that a comeback would be completed was palpable.
"We thought we had a shot,' said Hollenback, who notched his team-leading 11th goal. "That's been our motto all season. We've been down in pretty much every game. We just keep fighting all season long. We just came up short tonight.'
The variable that didn't cooperate was Bensalem. For the history the Vanguards were making by playing in their first playoff game since 2005, the Owls were hosting their first postseason game in almost two decades, the best guess of coach Joe Leone placing the last such contest in 1995. A team that went 14-4 during the regular season yet incurred a perceived slight in the seedings by only being ninth, Bensalem is hardly a stranger to the underdog role.
Coupled with a marked advantage in size, a multi-faceted attack and the ability to distribute from the backline, and it made for a long night for Sun Valley.
"It was a tough task,' Capuano said. "We knew what we were coming up against. It was a hard game. They've very talented up top. They did what they had to do up top, and they put the balls in the back of the net. And we didn't.'
That started in the 11th minute when sub Eric Corry, with his first touch of the game, got his head to a loose ball in the box. Two minutes later, Juergensen swerved a drive from 20 yards out that took a big hop over the diving reach of Sun Valley goalkeeper Matt Skwirut.
Hollenback's goal got the momentum back on the Vanguards' side and turned the second half into an end-to-end battle. It wasn't quenched until the Owls scored twice in the span of a minute in the 69th — Juergensen getting his head to a Jack McDowell free kick from midfield an instant before the fists of onrushing Skwirut, and Chris Kilcoyne touched down a McDowell distribution before slotting one home 40 seconds later.
For the 12 seniors that formed the core of this Sun Valley team, it was a bittersweet finale to a historic season.
"We stuck together all year as a unit this year,' said Hollenback, choking back tears. "And we really fought hard till the end. "