ROYERSFORD >> It was a surreal encapsulation of how the fall high-school sports season has unfolded.
A regular season that wasn’t a certainty to come off — thanks to the coronavirus and its alteration of the status quo — gave way to a post-season where district champions were the only teams assured of qualifying for the state playoffs. The win-or-else reality has added stress and urgency to the usual district playoff run.
Spring-Ford and Pennridge faced that circumstance, and more, when they faced off Tuesday in the District 1-4A playoffs’ semifinal round. Their matchup, a masterful pairing of non-bending defenses, went through regulation time and one overtime period with neither team able to hit the back of the other’s net.
With 6:34 in the second OT, victory came down to one shooting attempt. A hand ball was called against Spring-Ford, giving Pennridge a “golden goal” chance; score it and clinch the win, have it blocked and continue toward looming penalty kicks.
“I’ve been head coach for 13 years,” Pennridge’s Pete Valimont said, “and we’ve been through some stuff … lost games on penalty kicks. I’ve said this many times: Somebody is looking over us.”
Pennridge wins it! PK with 6:34 left in 2OT gives Pennridge 1-0 win over Spring-Ford District 1 4A semifinal. They get Neshaminy in final pic.twitter.com/PuXLmPfMDW
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) November 11, 2020
Ben Scary got the call, and he delivered. The senior midfielder converted a shot to the middle-right side of the net, lifting Pennridge to a 1-0 victory that put the Bucks County Rams in the district title game where it will face Neshaminy in Thursday’s championship.
It wasn’t a completely unfamiliar situation for Scary, either.
“In a game with Central Bucks West early in the season,” he said, “I got a penalty kick in the last four minutes.”
Scary’s game-ending play proved an abrupt one for Spring-Ford, playing in the district’s semifinal round for a second straight year. The Pioneer Athletic Conference’s Rams were very much their guests’ equal, leaving them empty on various scoring attempts with help from the supersized play of freshman goalkeeper Logan Hyduke.
“I’m really proud of them,” head coach Brent Kissel said after huddling with his team one last time this fall. “I told them in our post-game chat at the beginning of the season, we didn’t know if there was going to be a season.”
Spring-Ford (9-5-1) had come into the semis off a pair of 1-0 verdicts against Boyertown and West Chester East. 12th-seeded Pennridge was on a similar footing, scoring 1-0 wins on Abington and Upper Dublin in the first two rounds.
So a defensive duel was very much the prediction. And the teams didn’t disappoint in that assessment, either.
Hyduke had two particularly memorable stops: A lunging sidewise rejection late in the first OT, and a vertical leaping tip on a lofted shot by Pennridge’s Nicky Williams. At the other end, C.J. Dimmick thwarted numerous Spring-Ford tries at the Pennridge goal.
“Credit to their keeper,” Valimont said. “He was on his head playing some of those shots. For us, C.J. was all the place, making key saves and controlling the box.”
Diving stop by Spring-Ford with about eight minutes left in first OT. pic.twitter.com/keEyj7hs5b
— Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue) November 11, 2020
Spring-Ford, the 4A ninth seed, bunched four scoring opportunities in a 4-1/2 minute span in the middle of the first half.
But defensive backs Ryan Saville, Colin Monahan, Shane Velez and Dalton Guthrie spearheaded Pennridge’s tenacious play in front of Dimmick.
“It was a rough game,” Scary noted. “When you have strong defenses like this, it makes it hard on the offense.”
Spring-Ford’s own defensive excellence owed much to the play of backs like Jones, Ekow Asomaning, Shlok Shah and Brian Zisk. Asomaning, back from knee injuries, was key to his team’s recent 5-1 record and three-goal yield coming into the game.
Its solid midfield play has been led by Connor Lynch, Ben Goldberg and Nick DiNenna. Tommy Bodenschatz and Akshay Patel, along with Andrew Merchant, were solid up front.
They were part of a Spring-Ford roster listing more than a dozen players from the Class of 2021.
“We have a big senior group that made a lot of opportunities,” Kissel said in sizing up his team. “I’m really proud of the team, and the challenge they dealt with.”
NOTES >> Valimont was firm in his plan to have Scary take the penalty kick. “He’s hit a couple already. He’s a confident senior captain. There was no doubt he was taking it.” … Scary described the position of his penalty kick as being in his “comfort zone.” … The district championship game will pit Pennridge against Neshaminy, the bracket’s seventh seed.