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FLEETWOOD >> It's never easy knocking off the defending champs, particularly on their home turf.

Second-seeded Fleetwood, the reigning District 3 Class AA boys' soccer champion, opened defense of its title with a 1-0 victory over Palmyra on Monday night in opening round action in the Tigers' Stadium.

After pressuring the Cougars throughout a scoreless first half, the Tigers' Jeff Edger-Heffner found himself alone in front of the Palmyra goal just three minutes after intermission. His first-time shot off a centering pass eluded Cougar keeper Tanner Yaw, who later made some spectacular saves to keep Palmyra in the game.

The Cougars were credited with just one shot on goal, which came from senior forward Isaac Albrite with 5:26 left to play. Alex Hoffsmith set up Albrite with a deft through pass that split the Tigers' defense. Albrite fired quickly, but right at Fleetwood goalie Kyle Kierstad.

"We knew they'd be good," Palmyra coach Andrew Hull said. "From what everybody said who we talked to, we heard they played with a lot of skill and pace. You don't win district championships otherwise."

It wasn't that long ago - Nov.1, 2008 to be exact - that Palmyra and Fleetwood met in Hersheypark Stadium for the district championship.

The Cougars won that night 3-2 in overtime.

This time, they met under far different circumstances. The Tigers are now 17-2, with 15 shutouts, compared to Palmyra's season-ending record of 8-11-1. The Cougars were a last-minute entry into the district field as the No. 18 seed, with a modest two-game winning streak over Bishop McDevitt and CD East prior to beating Elco 3-2 in a play-in game.

They had upset on their minds, but didn't quite measure up. Their leading scorer, senior Robby Hanosek, who played roughly half the game at Elco last Friday, was unable to get his injured hamstring to loosen up in the chilly fall air. He was kept out of his final game for Palmyra.

The Cougars fought on without him, particularly in the fourth minute when senior defender Nick DeCarlo scrambled back to clear a goal off his line.

Yaw came through in the second half with many of his 10 saves.

"We played with a lot of heart," Yaw said. "Fleetwood was good. They had some very solid players who were really quick."

Fleetwood coach Keith Schlegel said he was happy to open the playoffs with a win. The Tigers were coming off a 1-0 loss to Tulpehocken in the Berks County playoffs.

"We have a lot of good players back from last year with experience in big games," he said. "We did everything right tonight except put the ball in the net. We shot a lot of balls over the top in the first half. Our shooting was much better in the second half, but their goalie made some nice saves."

With 9:50 left to play, Fleetwood peppered Yaw with four straight shots, all of which he saved.

"I've always been taught, if I can't catch it, to punch it away and get back up," Yaw said. "The shots just kept coming. I kept getting up and keeping my feet moving."

In the end, Fleetwood's speed on offense and defense, along with its ability to control the ball from the outside in, was more than Palmyra could handle.

"I told my kids I was very proud of them," Hull said. "We played very well against a very good team. My kids never quit. We gave them a game right to the end."

Fleetwood 1, Palmyra 0

Palmyra00—0

Fleetwood01—1

First half — None

Second half — F: Jeff Edger-Heffner

Assists — F: Greg Kambakis.

Shots on goal — Fleetwood 11, Palmyra 1;

Corners — Fleetwood 5, Palmyra 2;

Saves — P: Tanner Yaw (10 saves), F: Kyle Kierstad (1 save)

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