STATE COLLEGE — The end wasn’t what Downingtown East envisioned, but then again, no one but the players and coaches believed they would have made it that far to begin with.
The Cougars, who surprised by becoming a 13th seed who blew past everyone in the Flyers Cup tournament, fell just shy of their goal in a 3-1 loss to Erie Cathedral Prep in the ‘ AA’ State Championship game Saturday at Penn State.
“Even though we lost here, I’m still happy,” said Downingtown East goaltender Jeff Cummings. “Being with the team throughout all the Flyers Cup games and winning the Flyers Cup was pretty big for us as a 13th seed.”
Downingtown East came out flying as they had all through the tournament, but a couple of bad penalties and three goals by Prep in the second period derailed the Cougars.
They were never able to recover.
“They’re a good team and they really took it to us,” said Downingtown East head coach Dave Hendricks. “We came out forcing them to react and then the tides kind of turned and we never really recovered.”
Throughout it all, though, Cummings kept the game close until the very end, giving Downingtown East whatever chance he could to get them back into the game.
“Our goalie played absolutely amazing,” Hendricks said. “That could have easily been a 6-1 game. We struggled to move the puck as well as we have the whole entire time.”
After Ben Robertson gave the Cougars a 1-0 lead after one period, Dillon Elliott tied the score for Erie 2:07 into the second period. Joe Kelly gave Prep the lead for good nearly seven minutes later. A short time later, Hunter Emerson finished the scoring for Cathedral Prep, which out-shot the Cougars, 18-5, in the period.
There could be any number of reasons why the Cougars were unable to regain control of the game — a week layoff from the Flyers Cup Championships or maybe because they only trailed in a game during the tournament once, which lasted for little more than three minutes.
It also didn’t help that they were playing a prep team in the AA bracket.
“We play whoever they tell us to play,” Hendricks said. “Sure, it’s always tough to play someone who plays by a different set of rules, but it is what it is. We don’t get to choose who we play. We just go up and we have to be ready to play.”
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, one thing is for sure: it just wasn’t Downingtown East’s time.
“I feel like we came out strong, but we just kind of slowed down and let them take over,” Cummings said. “We just couldn’t come back.”
Downingtown captain Bobby Kiefer couldn’t put his finger on what happened.
“I don’t know what it was,” he said. “I think we really grew into a much better team since Ches-Monts. I don’t know what it is.”
The Cougars attempted to fight back in the later half of the third, but goaltender Jacob Kucharski wouldn’t budge.
“There were a couple good chances the boys had that they just couldn’t push across the line,” Hendricks said. “They were good plays and their goalie played well.”
Despite falling just one win short of bringing home a trophy never before won by Downingtown East, the players were still proud of everything they accomplished during the season.
“Nobody expected us to do this,” Kiefer said. “I’m still proud of every one of them. It was tough to pull the jersey off in the locker room, knowing that was the last game. I’m definitely going to walk away proud.”
Downingtown East’s future still looks bright after the year.
Though they’ll be graduating five seniors, the young core who made such a huge impact this season will be returning and now that they know what it takes to reach this point, they’ll be a force to reckon with next year.
“I look at it this way: I have three of the best assistant coaches in the area and you mix that with a very young team that’s eager to learn and eager to be coached, the sky is the limit for these guys,” Hendricks said. “We lose a couple key guys, but ultimately, the meat is still on the bone.”