HAVERFORD — The record may not indicate it, but it's been a rebuilding year for Haverford School.
The Fords have weathered many a test this season. Friday, they received a new challenge.
Despite putting Springside Chestnut Hill under feverish pressure and creating scoring chances by the boatload, the Fords couldn't find a goal in a 1-0 Inter-Ac League loss.
Gone is the control that the Fords (12-4-0, 6-1-0 Inter-Ac) could've exerted over their chances at a league title. In its place is a new challenge for the Fords: coping with adversity in the league slate.
Among the culprits in the stonewalling of the Fords was Blue Devils goalkeeper Sam McDowell, who stopped 10 shots to keep the clean sheet. Some were downright fantastic, like a double save he produced on a breakaway by Connor Keating in the second half, McDowell diving to smother Keating's shot and getting his body in front of Tucker McBride's follow-up shot.
"I just stuck to the fundamentals, just listened to what my coach said, and basically that was it,' McDowell said. "... (Keating) came in, so I knew I had to get out there. I did and I dove and got my arm on it.'
McDowell's heroics aside, the Fords had plenty of chances to breach the Springside Chestnut Hill defense. They were able to get set pieces in dangerous places, won five corner kicks and peppered McDowell's net with shots. But what was missing was clinical finishing.
The Fords had the ball in the back of the net in the game's final three minutes thanks to a throw-in by defender Jimmy Tricolli. But the throw wasn't touched, and the celebration was cut short quickly as the goal was correctly called off.
There were better chances from the run of play, but they all went begging. Keating had a header that beat McDowell, but couldn't sneak under the crossbar. Keating also lashed a pair of shots wide in the final minute, keying a championship-type celebration by the Blue Devils at midfield after the final whistle.
"We came out there, we knew we had to give it our all the last 20 minutes or so,' Keating said. "We had probably 15 opportunities, and we were close every time. We gave it our all. We played really well together, and the luck just wasn't with us.'
In a game where defensive solidity ruled the day for the visitors, it was a hiccup in Haverford School's backline that ended up being the difference. Goalkeeper Quinn Letter rushed out to intercept a cross in the 46th minute but couldn't corral it. Instead, it fell to a lurking Jose Contreras, who settled the ball, took a touch and buried it in the back of the net.
From there, the Blue Devils were content to sit back and absorb wave after wave of Haverford School pressure. The desperation of the Fords didn't do much to help an attack that even in the first half had the better of chances.
"I think we were pretty comfortable,' McDowell said. "Our backs are really, really strong I was nervous because they're a good team, they create lots of chances, especially from the wings.'
"As much as we pressured and as difficult as it was, we came together as a team,' Keating said. "They were anticipating that we were going to be coming full force at them and trying to kick it out. We're doing our best, trying our hardest to get that next goal to tie it up. We had our chances, but we didn't capitalize.'
The second-half chances by the Fords were only part of the story. Gregory and McBride wasted chances at open headers on either side of halftime, and Connor Bradley's shot from just outside the box was pawed away by McDowell.
Shane Bradley got his weight behind a free kick from 25 years out with three minutes left, but the wall did its job, even if midfielder Evan Wilson's head was the worse for wear afterward.
The loss could've essentially salted away the Inter-Ac race for the Fords. Instead, they'll have to buckle down and hope for a share of the title.
"It's an eye-opener,' Keating said. "We're going to have to play harder. We're going to have to win out and hopefully something happens to them and at the minimum we can be co-champions of the league.'