For 20 minutes, the game assumed a familiar pattern. South Western boys' soccer players bunched together inside their own penalty area, throwing their bodies in front of shots, doing whatever it took to protect a one-goal lead early in the second half of their YAIAA tournament semifinal against Susquehannock.
The Warriors, after spending much of the first half on their heels, seemed ready to break through. But such desperation also came with a cost.
While Susquehannock scrambled for an equalizer, South Western waited for the right moment to deliver a knockout blow during its 3-0 win Tuesday night at Papermakers Stadium.
"Being down a goal you got to try to play men up and get possession and get a goal," Susquehannock coach Jim Shenk said. "And when you do that, you leave yourself open to counters and things like that."
Sure enough, it was the Mustangs (13-7-0) who finished strong. They deposited to pair of goals in the final 10 minutes to cap an airtight defensive performance and pull away from the Warriors (8-8-1).
The win means South Western will make the program's first YAIAA championship game appearance Thursday. The Mustangs will play Dallastown, a 4-3 winner over Central York, at 7:30 p.m. at Susquehannock.
"We just got behind the ball and looked to counter," South Western coach Clayton Wilcox said of the second half. "We weathered their storm and then had gas left in the tank for the last 20 minutes."
David Penarrieta put the game away for the Mustangs with 9:33 to play, when he headed home a pinpoint cross from Andrew Slater. Justin Zinneman added a third goal for South Western a few minutes later.
Before that, the Mustangs had set the tone during the first half. They controlled possession early, and grabbed a lead exactly 10 minutes in when Scott Hess' long-range shot slipped through the hands of Warriors goalkeeper Dan Snyder.
"I just put a little power on it," Hess said. "They were down for a while because of that.
"They came at us in the second half real hard, but we fought it off."
South Western was able to do that, in part, thanks to its defensive organization. At some points early in the second half, the Mustangs had 10 players behind the ball.
While Susquehannock applied pressure, few of its shots actually made it on net. The ones that did were swallowed up by South Western goalkeeper Adam Alton (four saves).
The loss left the Warriors in limbo. They held the final playoff spot in the District 3 Class AA field heading into Tuesday, but could need some help this week to hold that seeding.
"We're the bubble boy right now," Shenk said.
SOUTH WESTERN 3, SUSQUEHANNOCK 0
South Western -- 1 2 -- 3
Susquehannock -- 0 0 -- 0
First Half -- 1. SW, Scott Hess, 30:00.
Second Half -- 2. SW, David Penarrieta (Andrew Slater), 9:33; 3. SW, Justin Zinneman, 5:54.
Shots On Goal -- SW 5, Sus 4.
Corners -- SW 3, Sus 2.
Goalies -- SW, Adam Alton (4 saves); Sus, Dan Snyder (2 saves).