ROYERSFORD >> Saturday afternoon’s District One Class AAA playoff matchup proved to be a game defined by runs.
Central Bucks East opened it up on a four-goal run before Spring-Ford came storming back, putting together a four-goal rally of its own to tie it late in the second half.
Michael Ott put an end to it all, though — the junior midfielder scoring the game-winning goal with 40 seconds remaining to lift Central Bucks East to a 6-5 win over Spring-Ford at Coach McNelly Stadium in the district quarterfinal round.
“We were trying to play patient, much like we did early on in the first half,” said Ott of the final sequence. “It’s all about little runs and possessing the ball. We slowed them (Spring-Ford) down in the first half, and luckily we gave ourselves some breathing room for the rest of the way.”
With the win, No. 5 seeded Central Bucks East secures its first state playoff berth since 2015. The Patriots (10-0 Suburban One National; 16-3 overall) will face top-seeded Avon Grove — a 12-3 winner of Downingtown East — in the district semifinal on Tuesday.
Unfortunately for No. 4 seeded Spring-Ford, yet another run continues on. The Rams (9-0 Pioneer Athletic Conference; 17-3 overall) lost in the district quarterfinals for the third straight year and now must claw their way through the playbacks, still seeking their first ever state playoff berth.
The Rams will face No. 9 Downingtown East Tuesday with a state playoff spot on the line.
“We just keep trying to get to that point,” said Spring-Ford head coach Kevin Donnelly with a laugh that mixed some humor but more frustration. “Any team that gets this far is always going to be good. I expect it to be another good game, another really tough challenge for us (at playbacks).”
With reserve keeper RJ Miller manning the C.B. East goal, the Patriots made his life plenty easy. Throughout the first half and even into the third quarter, East dominated the possessions and tortured Spring-Ford’s midfielders anytime they tried to gain control.
Speedy sophomore attack Ryan Stout picked up a pair of goals and an assist while senior Ryan Brown scored the first two goals of the game for C.B. East. Ryan Schmidt had an assist while Miller finished with three saves in goal.
“We double-poled at the midfield to try and slow down No. 9 (Ryan Rosenblum) and No. 16 (Danny Cassidy),” said Patriots’ head coach Bruce Garcia. “They have some very strong, talented, athletic individuals and we had to gameplan to slow them down.
“Our players are interchangeable,” he added. “We run players off our bench because we run a very fast game. That’s what we’ve done all year. We keep rotating guys on and off the bench.”
East dominated the faceoffs 13-2 and held the advantage in shots 13-8.
Usually the main focal point of the Ram offense, Danny Cassidy was given almost no room to operate anytime he possessed the ball. East’s defenders and midfielders were quick to swarm, limiting Cassidy’s ability to stretch the field and dominate the possession.
He did get his, though.
Three minutes into the second half, Cassidy picked off an errant pass and started downfield before he found a falling Jarod Marenger in front of the goal to make it 5-2.
That kick-started Spring-Ford’s four-goal run over the next 18 minutes. The Rams suddenly controlled the ball and the midfield, mixing in goals from Marenger, Cassidy and the game-tying strike from Ryan Rosenblum with 2:27 remaining.
“We switched defenses, which really helped,” said Donnelly. “We were being a little bit more patient defensively and forced them (C.B. East) into turnovers that we weren’t doing in the first half.
“That sparked our offense. We’ve got some guys that are dangerous.”
Although it’s faced yet another setback at districts, Spring-Ford still has its sights set on the program’s first state playoff berth. They’ll put it all on the line back home on Tuesday.
NOTES >> Regular starting Central Bucks East goalkeeper Liam Rosenthal missed the game Saturday while attending the funeral service for his grandfather.