The plan Lower Moreland coach Matt Crouch put together for his team Thursday night was simple.
"Quite honestly, I was trying to play for a (penalty kick) shootout with Holy Ghost,' Crouch said. "We had a plan in mind and we were trying to execute it.'
That meant playing eight, maybe even nine or 10 players in the defensive third, and smother any offense the Firebirds could mount in the District One Class AA championship game at Walt Snyder Stadium at Council Rock North.
It worked — for 71 minutes. Then Holy Ghost Prep's Michael Kirby pulled four defenders to the corner and sent a cross to teammate Tim French just off the near post of the goal. French gathered the ball and slipped it past Lower Moreland goalie Phil Madden with just 9:06 left in regulation.
The Firebirds made that goal stand up as it edged the Lions, 1-0, to claim their third straight District One crown and a spot in the PIAA tournament beginning Tuesday.
"They were packing it in in the middle,' French said. "We talked about it at halftime with our coach and he just said to work the ball and keep it on the ground because it wasn't working out in the air. We just played the ball to each other's feet and we were able to get the job done.
"We came in with the mindset that we were going to win this game and in the beginning we were a little nervous, but we pulled it together and we were able to pull it out.'
While HGP coach Ken Lawson didn't feel his team played all that well in the first half, he credited Lower Moreland's game plan with causing problems.
"Four (Andrew Costa) came back and played back,' Lawson said. "The first time we played them, he played up top and we beat them 5-0. Second game they brought him back, we beat them 2-0. So we thought he would be in the back and (Crouch) brought 24 (Tony Andreoni) back, he doesn't play back there either.
"Give them credit, his strategy almost worked.'
The Firebirds controlled the action in the first half, but really didn't put much pressure on Madden.
"The first half, we looked like a CYO team,' Lawson said. "The ball would come to us and then be five feet in front of us or up in the air. Our touching was terrible. We told them to be patient, patient in the final third and it will come...and it did.'
Kirby carried the ball, and the Lower Moreland defenders with him, into the corner before spotting French.
"I just made a run up and I saw Kirby with the ball on the left side,' French said. "He just played a perfect ball across the middle for me and I just put it in with my left foot. I saw it opening up. I peeked over my shoulder really quick and saw the goalie was cheating toward the left and I just put it to the right and luckily it went in.
"It was an amazing feeling.'
Crouch said Costa coming off the field with an injury may have been the difference.
"Unfortunately, Andrew Costa took a big hit there toward the end and, I think, emotionally when the boys saw him leave it took a little something off because he was a major anchor back there. Three minutes later, they capitalized on it.'
For 71 minutes the Lions played with confidence against the tournament's top seed.
"I think their mental state of mind was like, ' we've got nothing to lose,'' Crouch said. "We knew what we were getting into and that helped me prep for the game. After the first 15 minutes, it was still 0-0 and I told them if they could give me 20 minutes to keep them off the scoreboard, it would get them to guess that maybe their stuff wasn't working. And it worked.'
The loss dropped the Lions to 10-8 for the season, but it was far from a devastating defeat, at least for Crouch.
"I told my boys that in 12 years of coaching soccer, that was my most proud moment,' he said. "That doesn't sound right after a loss, but that was probably the best game that I've had the opportunity to be around.'