ASTON — Cardinal O'Hara had watched the same celebration unfold for the past three years, each time at its expense.
It was always Archbishop Carroll. Always. The Lions couldn't break through the Patriots' stranglehold on the Catholic League title, not when Carroll kept sending O'Hara home empty-handed and always talking about next year.
It was one thing for O'Hara to have to watch another team hoist the championship plaque, but to have to watch Carroll do so twisted the knife just a little bit more every time, multiplying the anguish exponentially every year.
Finally, it was the Lions' time to shine. Two-time All-Delco Grace Boston zipped in overtime's lone corner to Sarah Quintus, who in turn smashed a reverse past Patriots goalie Kerri Mountz for the deciding marker in a 2-1 O'Hara win that snapped Carroll's three-year reign over the PCL Wednesday night at Neumann University.
O'Hara, which claimed its first league title since 2004 and its first under fourth-year head coach Marie Murphy, will play the Public League champion Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Germantown Super Site for District 12's lone spot in the AAA state tournament.
Quintus didn't have any idea that she'd be scoring the biggest goal of her career. Actually, she wasn't even supposed to be shooting.
"I was supposed to pass it back to Grace,' said Quintus, who still tightly clenched the game ball in her hand well after the title had been won. "(The Patriots) were there and I kind of fumbled it. I turned around and it was just spur of the moment. I didn't even know it went in.'
Oh, it went in, with the unmistakable sound of ball hitting backboard immediately ceding the way to excited screams as the official soundtrack of the O'Hara victory. This wasn't your average championship win. This was a celebration four years in the making, especially for Lions seniors Boston, All-Delco Marissa Cicione, Gabby Rowe and Lauren DelRomano, who had felt the full brunt of three straight title game losses.
A year after leaving her home turf in tears after a 1-0 loss to the Patriots, Boston had tears streaming down her face again, but this time, for all the right reasons. As she embraced Murphy and 2012 All-Delco Carlie Spaeder, it was obvious that this meant the world to Boston and the Lions.
"It's unbelievable,' said Boston, who was named the Catholic League's Most Valuable Player for the third straight season. "No feeling like it. Just the fact that we went into overtime and I believed in my team every second and I know they all believed in me. ... It's amazing. ... I just felt so relieved and at the same time, excited. It's insane. I can't speak. It's the best feeling in the world. (The Patriots) are our rivals and the fact that they beat us three times and then in my senior year, to get the plaque is unbelievable.'
The Lions wouldn't have needed overtime if not for Carroll's Meredith Campbell. With less than three minutes to go, the Patriots senior snared a pass and ripped a reverse off goalie Liz Piszker (four saves) into the net, and at that point, it seemed like Carroll was up to its old tricks again. It didn't hurt the Patriots' cause that Mountz, who was brilliant with 12 saves including a stop on a Quintus stroke in the first half, played arguably her finest game of the season. O'Hara initially got on the board when Bridget Egan tipped a Makayla Gallen shot home, but after Campbell's goal, doubt started to settle in.
"I knew it was still going to be hard and we still had to work to get it,' Campbell said, "but it definitely gave us hope that we would be able to stick with them. It really pumped us up a lot. ... It's not easy. When (Quintus') goal went in, it was hard for all of us, but I think we all played a good game and we played as a unit and that's all that matters.'
But this time, the Lions had enough. O'Hara came into the season knowing full well that it returned the majority of its team from last year, while the Patriots were feeling the brunt of graduating two straight incredibly talented classes. This was supposed to be the Lions' season from the get-go, but even after a 2-1 win over the Patriots in the regular season, the official coronation couldn't be complete without a Catholic League championship.
"Unreal,' Cicione said. "It doesn't feel like it happened. "(The corner) was just so much pressure. You don't even hear the crowd. You're so tuned it to the game, but it's just amazing. It took me a couple seconds, then I was, like, ' oh my God, it went in.' Everyone just went nuts and you see just millions of people coming down.'
The O'Hara student section, which drowned out all other noises coming from the Neumann bleachers, stormed the field to join the victorious Lions, forming an enormous circle mob that eventually gave way to a photo shoot on the field.
Amazing how much you can celebrate when the monkey that's been sticking around for so long gets thrown off your shoulders in style.
"Unreal. It's the best feeling in the world,' defender Lauren DelRomano said. "I don't even know. I can't explain it. It was just the best feeling in the world. It means the world. Literally, the world.'
Standout midfielder Gabby Rowe, who stymied a handful of Carroll offensive chances, echoed her defensive running mate's thoughts.
"It's literally the best feeling,' Rowe said. "It's indescribable. I don't know how to describe it. I think the feeling after losing three years and then winning the fourth, my senior year, is the best feeling. For us, it was just unexpected and it was awesome.'
Assuming the Lions can deal with the Public League champ — a foregone conclusion — both they and the Patriots would begin their quest for their respective state titles Tuesday, Nov. 5. Both of them will have taken different roads to get there, but both have been in the other's shoes ... and that's something the Lions can get used to.
"It's wonderful,' Murphy said. "It's really great. It really feels like unfinished business. It's been a tough three years and even tougher coming into this game with that lingering in the background. My hat goes off to Carroll. They played an amazing game and they're definitely a good representative in the AA (tournament).'
Funny, the AAA rep isn't so bad, either, especially with that shiny new hardware it will proudly display.