Paws for effect: Pelham retains Paws Cup with win over Helena to clinch playoffs, set up area title game

Published 12:37 pm Saturday, April 13, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – With the Pelham High School Band playing in full voice, hundreds of fans in the stands and the Paws Cup trophy on the sideline between both benches, an electricity filled the air as the Pelham Panthers and Helena Huskies squared off on the soccer pitch for the second time in 2024.

In the end, after 80 minutes of hard-fought soccer between the historic rivals, Pelham prevailed in a 3-1 victory on Thursday, April 11 at Pelham High School to sweep the season series and claim the Paws Cup.

The victory didn’t just come with silverware as the Panthers clinched a state playoffs spot for the 10th straight season and set up a battle for the area championship with Briarwood on Tuesday, April 16 at Pelham High School.

Pelham wasted little time establishing itself in front as a third minute breakaway turned into the opening goal of the match when Luis Bravo found the back of the net to open up a 1-0 lead.

While the Panthers remained in front, Helena brought the fight to its heated rival as both teams got into the attacking third frequently and got chances off breakaway runs.

However, even though multiple chances ended in near misses or saves, Pelham maintained its one-goal advantage.

That changed with less than a minute left when the Panthers won a free kick.

After the ball bounced off the Huskies defenders’ heads while they tried to clear it, Elder Esquival came in from behind the play and collected the ball, ran in and slotted a shot into the bottom left corner to double the lead and make the halftime score 2-0.

The teams traded near misses in the opening minutes of the second half as Helena nearly scored off a free kick in the 46th minute only for Pelham to nearly find the back of the net a minute later.

The Panthers nearly went up by three in the 52nd minute when a header in the box got dangerously close to the goal but went in the small space between the crossbar and the football goalpost.

Just over 10 minutes later in the 63rd minute, a Pelham foul in the box gave the Huskies the perfect opportunity to get back in the game. Jack Hendrix converted the ensuing penalty kick to make the score 2-1.

That opened back up the game as the Huskies deficit was just one goal.

The teams had a couple of chances off set pieces over the next 10 minutes as a Panthers handball in the 69th minute led to a Helena free kick that was blocked by the wall and Pelham’s free kick in the 72nd minute was saved.

However, soon after that free kick, a tackle in the box by the Huskies set up the Panthers with a penalty kick chance of their own.

Jair Camargo stepped up to take the penalty, and he buried it in the bottom left corner to restore Pelham’s two-goal lead.

While the Panthers put Helena’s back against the wall, the Huskies kept fighting until the end, forcing a save in the 76th minute before Austin Lewis missed just to the left of the goal in the 78th minute.

Shortly after that shot though, Helena committed another penalty to send Pelham back to the spot. Unlike the first penalty, the Panthers hit the crossbar on the attempt.

The miss wouldn’t matter much as Pelham saw out the final two minutes to earn the 3-1 victory, and Panthers keeper Raul Jacobo ran to grab the trophy and take it to his teammates to celebrate with their fans.

Pelham has the chance to claim another championship as it faces Briarwood on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m. at home for the area title. Both teams are tied at 4-1 atop the area and are locked into the playoffs no matter the result in the area finale.

As for Helena, it will wrap up area play with a trip to Indian Springs, and the match will also kick off on Tuesday, April 17 at 7 p.m.