DOWNINGTOWN — There was only one player at DiSerafino Stadium who knew he won the game for Downingtown East.
That player ended up being the one who netted the game-winning goal for the Cougars: Mike Risser.
“I just saw it sneak in,’ said Risser, who went off in a standalone celebration seconds after netting the winner before his team greeted him. “It felt great. I don’t think I ever scored a game-winning goal in overtime in my life. It’s a great feeling.’
Risser netted the game-winner with 1:14 left in overtime, his second goal of the night, to lift No. 13 Downingtown East to a come-from-behind 7-6 victory over No. 20 Hatboro-Horsham in a District 1 first-round game Tuesday.
The Cougars (11-7) advance to the second round of the tournament, where they will travel to No. 4 Springfield (Delco), a 12-1 winner over No. 29 West Chester East, Thursday at a time to be determined. The Hatters (10-8) season came to an end with the loss.
Shut down for 44 minutes by a stingy Hatboro defense, Risser took over the game as the Cougars were trailing 6-4 with five minutes to play. Struggling for offensive continuity throughout the game against the Hatters’ zone defense, East found a glitch that added some pressure to Hatboro.
In came Risser, as East’s leading scorer was held to just one shot on the night once he came into the game with 4:58 left in the fourth.
“Things just kind of opened up for me,’ Risser said. “I finally was able to find some weak spots in the defense and thankfully we were able to take advantage of it.’
“They started finding little holes in the zone,’ Hatboro head coach John Kurek said. “Give credit to them. They executed well. With the way our defense and our goalie played, couldn’t ask more for the effort tonight.’
Risser took a pass and fired a blast from 17-yards out to cut East’s deficit to a goal as the Cougars trailed 6-5 with 4:45 left in the fourth.
With East gaining momentum after having little to none of it up to that point, the Cougars denied they were going to lose the game.
After the defense forced a Hatboro turnover with 3:30 left in the fourth, East held the ball looking for a good shot. With the Hatboro defense keying up on Risser, he found Darien Vitelli wide open on the right side. Vitelli fired a one-timer past Hatboro goalie Kurt Dick for the equalizer as the Cougars tied it 6-6 with 2:04 left.
“Mike hit me with a great pass,’ Vitelli said. “We were moving the ball so well up until that point. Once I got it, the opportunity was there to shoot. I had to take the shot with the open lane.’
East did not trail for the first time since with 6:43 left in the third quarter after Vitelli’s goal. With the momentum finally on the Cougars side, they weren’t set to relinquish it.
Hatboro did not see an offensive possession the rest of the night once East won the faceoff to start overtime, which led to Risser’s heroics.
After coming out of a timeout, Risser took the ball behind the cage and cradled it for eight seconds. Risser ran to his right and fired a shot over his shoulder past Dick for the winner. Dick never moved his stick as Risser fired the shot, completely unaware of Risser’s move.
He wasn’t the only one on the field as the the entire East and Hatboro team did not know the ball went into the back of the cage as Risser ran to the stands in celebration. One the official put his hands up for the goal, the Cougars ran to pounce Risser after he sent the Cougars to the second round.
Risser had two goals and an assist in the final 8:44 of the game. A huge contrast from being nonexistant for the first 44 minutes.
The formula was simple for the East senior: he didn’t want his season and high school career to come to an end.
“To be honest, I was scared of that happening,’ Risser said. “It was weird to think that my high school career might be over, but we stepped up at the end. We knew what we had to do. And you know what…we’re playing Thursday.’
NOTES — Risser leads Downingtown East with 31 goals on the season. He is East’s first 30 goal scorer since Kyle Lauletta (53) and Brandyn O’Connell (51) went over the 30-goal mark in 2013…East-Hatboro was the only District 1 first round game to go to overtime…The Ches-Mont League went 4-2 in first round games.