Fresh off his team's second defeat of the season on Oct. 30, Spring-Ford girls soccer coach Sheldon Chamberlain wanted another crack at Neshaminy, the team that had just edged his squad by a single goal in the District 1-AAA quarterfinals.
"We can compete. We were the team to bump them off,' said Chamberlain, the competitive juices still flowing. "And maybe we'll see them again.'
It would take a pair of must-win playback games just to make the PIAA Tournament. Once there, and situated on opposite halves of the bracket, it would take another three straight wins over the best teams Pa. had to offer to get their shot at redemption.
Improbably, Spring-Ford did just that to earn its rematch with undefeated District 1 champion Neshaminy.
It's even sweeter because there are no other teams left for the Rams to match — they and the Redskins are the last two teams standing in Class AAA. Spring-Ford and Neshaminy will meet for the PIAA Class AAA girls soccer championship Saturday at 4 p.m. at Hersheypark Stadium (PCN TV).
The Rams (24-2-1) did it with convincing wins in the District 1 playbacks to earn the region's No. 5 seed. The Rams did it by knocking off arguably the three best teams in Pennsylvania not named Neshaminy — former No. 1 ranked District 3 champion Cumberland Valley (2-1), District 1 runner-up Downingtown East (1-0), and District 7 champion Seneca Valley (1-0 2OT), which had knocked off three-time defending PIAA champion Peters Township in the previous round, in Tuesday night's semifinals.
After those results it's safe to say Spring-Ford hasn't lucked into its spot in the final.
It's impossible to say that about Neshaminy either.
The Redskins (24-0) have registered three comfortable wins in states — 3-0 over District 3 No. 4 seed Red Land in the first round, 2-0 over District 3 runner-up Wilson in the second round, and 3-0 over District 1 No. 4 Central Bucks East in the semifinals.
The narrative surrounding Spring-Ford and Neshaminy may be as different as upstart underdog vs. unflappable favorite, but a trip to Hershey on the final Saturday of the season is uncharted territory for both programs.
Spring-Ford has been in uncharted waters for 2 ½ weeks, reaching the PIAA tournament for the first time after capturing their first Pioneer Athletic Conference championship in mid-October. They are the first PAC-10 school to reach the state final since Owen J. Roberts in 2005 when the Wildcats finished runner-up to Pine Richland.
Alternately, Neshaminy was within one game of reaching the state final last season before falling to Cumberland Valley in the semifinals, 2-0.
Both teams have reached this stage with physical defensive play, smart pressing and distribution in the midfield and a stable of attacking personnel that know how to seize a moment.
Leading the line for Spring-Ford are seniors Megan Giannopoulos and Aley Kate McKinley and sophomore Gabrielle Vagnozzi. Giannopoulos (21 goals, six assists) has three goals in states including the Rams' two most dramatic, the late game-winner against Cumberland Valley in the first round and the double overtime golden goal — on an assist from Vagnozzi (seven goals, 12 assists) — against Seneca Valley Tuesday in Chambersburg. McKinley (16 goals, 11 assists) fired home the game-winner in Round 2.
Neshaminy is led by two-time All-America senior forward Megan Schafer, who has 32 goals this season and 101 in her career, and sophomore Gabby Farrell (16 goals).
In the midfield, Spring-Ford features seniors Sammy Stipa and Sarah Hancock and sophomore Brianna Cirino. They will be opposed by seniors Jess Kelly and Stephanie Donahue and juniors Fran Donato (17 goals) and Katie Suchodolski, in what expects to be a physical battle in the center of the park.
On defense, the Rams field senior Kaitlyn Dougherty and sophomore Taylor Newhart in the center, senior Julie Pennington on the right and sophomore Laura Suero on the left in front of junior goalkeeper Jenna Griggs. Neshaminy is led by center back Amy Heller along with juniors Nicole Nisivoccia and Katie McCoy and freshman Maggie Daeche. Goalkeeper McKenna Mullin has recorded 18 shutouts this season.
In the first meeting, it was Farrell and Schafer who turned back Spring-Ford, rallying the Redskins from a goal down in the second half. Farrell leveled the game after Stipa opened the scoring in the first half before Schafer muscled her way into the eventual game-winner midway through the second half.
Saturday's final expects to look different than the first go-around. The quarterfinal match on Neshaminy's home field was played on a natural grass surface with compact football dimensions on an extremely gusty day. That wind helped produce the Redskins' opening goal when goalkeeper Mullin's punt was caught in the wind and blew over the Rams' defense. It still took a quality finish from Farrell on the breakaway, but the conditions created the scoring chance.
Conversely, Hersheypark Stadium is an Astroturf field with wide dimensions, likely the largest field either team has played on this season.
Weather or field conditions aside, Chamberlain and his squad have earned the rematch they desired.
Saturday will determine if Spring-Ford really was the team to "bump (Neshaminy) off' or if the Redskins were a team that couldn't be knocked off their perch all along.
Follow Austin Hertzog on Twitter @AustinHertzog for updates from Saturday's game.