GRATERFORD — Considering Conestoga the 20th seed in this year's District 1-AAA boys soccer tournament is about as far-fetched as considering Chip Kelly a defensive guru.
The Pioneers looked anything like a squad who belonged in the bottom half of the district draw in Tuesday night's opener against 13th seed Perkiomen Valley.
Conestoga's speed, skill and throw-in prowess ultimately were the differences in a 1-0 victory at Thomas J. Keenan Stadium.
David Zipkin scored the game's lone goal in the 62nd minute as the Pioneers (14-4-1) advanced to Thursday's second-round contest against at fourth seed Central Bucks East.
The Pioneer Athletic Conference runner-up Vikings, meanwhile, finished their campaign with a 12-7-2 mark.
"That team is not a 20 seed,' Perkiomen Valley coach Bob McCabe said of the Pioneers. "They probably had some of the best speed of any of the teams we've played.'
The Vikings, coming off a heartbreaking penalty-kick loss to Spring-Ford in last week's PAC-10 final, had to make do without standout keeper Corey Jackson after a freak accident earlier in the day in which a door swung open and banged him in the head.
"He (Jackson) called me an hour or two before the game, and I didn't really believe him at first,' PV senior midfielder Scott Neal said. "I was like, ' This is the most unlucky thing that can happen to us at this point.''
Backup Nick Snyder was up to the challenge, with a seven-save effort — including a reflex-action stop on Zipkin's breakaway that kept the game scoreless midway through the second half.
Shortly thereafter, however, the Pioneers hit paydirt.
On a sequence that began with Chris Chappelear's throw-in, Nate Monsell skimmed a header into a crowd in the box and Zipkin corralled it on the right doorstep and deposited it home.
"Our second-half strategy was to flood the box with guys and try to make it a scramble,' Conestoga coach Dave Zimmerman said.
"Coach (Zimmerman) decided to put five guys inside the six, and we had two out by the 18,' said Zipkin. "We basically designed that play at halftime and it paid off.
"We knew something was coming. Once we got that (goal), we were able to settle in and take control of the game completely.'
From there, the Pioneers went on the defensive, packing it in tighter than a can of sardines to thwart any hopes by the Vikings of netting the equalizer from their dynamic one-two punch of Neal and Matt Genuardi.
Conestoga finished with an 8-2 shot advantage and 2-1 edge in corners.
"They were definitely at a higher caliber than what we were used to,' Neal said. "We put up a good fight. We worked our asses off again like we usually do, but they played well too.
"They really knew our attack style. They marked me and Matt well. They didn't let me turn, and they didn't let Matt dribble.'
"I knew going in the scoring chances were going to be few and far between,' McCabe said. "I just felt we were defending that throw-in all game long, and I didn't know how long we could keep that up. It's a dangerous weapon for them.'
It was the 11th shutout of the season for Conestoga, which is 6-0-1 over its last seven games.
"I think the energy of our players and getting to bring that intensity was a big key,' Zimmerman said. "And to be honest, we were a little insulted by the seed we got. We didn't really think a 20th seed was where we deserved to be.'
While the Pioneers will get another chance to prove that, McCabe will bid farewell to a stalwart senior group that includes starters Neal, Genuardi, Jackson, Kyle Charlton, Ryan Szabo, Jason Varughese.
"No matter what's come our way, these guys have given me effort, no matter what,' McCabe said. "I think that freak accident with Corey got in their heads a little bit, but Nick did an outstanding job filling in considering he hasn't played much at all.
"In the grand scheme of things we lost in PKs to Spring-Ford, and now we lost here 1-0. Going out on a two-game losing streak isn't the greatest thing in the world, but I couldn't be more proud of the effort these guys put forth. This team jelled as the year went on. It was a lot of fun, and I'm going to miss this senior class. But we were just talking here, and I hope our underclassmen remember this and file it away — how close we were and what it feels like — so that if we get a chance to be in this position again next year maybe we handle it a little differently.'
Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.