Hazleton, Pa. - Two first half scores from freshman Moussa Diouf (Carteret, Nj.) gave the third seeded Nittany Lions (11-5, 7-2 PSUAC) an early lead in their home playoff game against sixth seeded Mont Alto (6-14, 4-5 PSUAC) on Saturday afternoon. Mont Alto rallied with a quick score to open up the second half, but Hazleton retaliated with four goals in the final period to put the game out of reach. Hazleton finished the game with a 13-1 advantage in corner kick attempts and out-shot the visitors 18-4 in shots on goal as they cruised through the opening round of the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs with a 6-2 victory over Mont Alto.
Mont Alto found themselves playing down a man as an early red card sent one of their starters to the bench. Playing with the advantage, Hazleton was able to maintain possession in their offensive zone, but Mont Alto was able to keep the Lions off the board early. Things changed in the 26th minute when Diouf collected the ball on the left side of the 18 yard box. Diouf drove to his right, past Mont Alto defenders and fired a shot to the lower right corner of the goal to give Hazleton the 1-0 lead. Four minutes later, junior Steven Principe (Jim Thorpe, Pa.) targeted a slashing Diouf to his left and it took just one touch for the freshman to fire off his second attack, this time besting the keeper with a low line drive to the bottom left corner, extending Hazleton's advantage to 2-0, a lead the Lions would carry into the break.
Just two minutes after the second half kickoff, Mont Alto's Dustin Gearhart dribbled past several Hazleton defenders for a one on one chance with the Hazleton keeper. Gearhart's shot found the right portion of the net, stunning Hazleton who had commanded the tempo nearly all of the first half, cutting the lead to just one in favor of the Lions. But Hazleton responded on the ensuing kickoff as freshman Kaleab Tekleyohannes (Gaithersburg, Md.) pressed forward to the top of the Mont Alto box and dumped the ball to senior Kyle Venditti (Berwick, Pa.) trailing the play on the left side. Venditti made a beautiful scissor move past a defender to create space and fired a shot off the keepers hands to reclaim a two score lead for Hazleton.
The Lions weren't finished yet. Moments later Hazleton was back on the offensive earning junior Michael Principe (Jim Thorpe, Pa.) a corner kick attempt. Principe lobbed a ball into the box, finding junior Steven Principe who headed the ball past the keeper to quickly put Hazleton up 4-1 by the 50th minute. Five minutes would pass before Hazleton receive yet another corner kick attempt. This time it was Diouf's turn and the freshman delivered yet again. Diouf's soaring kick sailed over a herd of players from both squads to Kyle Venditti who settled the ball and blasted a kick off the left hip of the keeper for his second tally of the game and 5-1 advantage for the Lions.
Hazleton held the comfortable lead but Mont Alto would get back on the board in the 66th minute. Alex Gallaher made a fine crossing pass from the right side of the field into the Hazleton box, finding Gearhart who's shot found the top left 90, cutting the lead to three at 5-2. But whatever momentum Mont Alto had built to that point was quickly erased by the possession tactics of Hazleton and as the final horn drew near, freshman Jason Klusewitz (Mountain Top, Pa.) erased the Mont Alto score with a tally of his own, beating several defenders for the unassisted insurance goal as Hazleton took home the win by the score of 6-2.
The win for Hazleton sends them back to the PSUAC semi-finals where they'll face a familiar foe. The Lions will square off on Monday afternoon with the two seed, Penn State Beaver. Beaver knocked off Hazleton earlier this season by the score of 2-1 and sent Hazleton packing in the quarterfinals of the 2015 postseason on their way to a PSUAC title. Hazleton will once again make the trip out west where they will look to break through for an opportunity at a championship. Kick off scheduled for 3:00 p.m. at Penn State Beaver on Monday, October 31