No matter the opponent, Howard’s Cody Ford said his team views every game through a championship lens.
The preparation, mentality and motivation stay the same for the Lions, and Tuesday afternoon, playing on the grass at Centennial, they faced their biggest challenge yet.
In a battle of two heavyweights keen on going the distance for a county title this season, it was Howard that was left standing, having defeated the Eagles, 8-2.
“I thought the kids came out with high energy for 48 minutes,” said Lions coach Jimmy Creighton. “The kids definitely understood the emphasis of this game.”
Ford notched three goals, and Scott Bruner added two more for the Lions, who burst out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back.
“We scouted them a lot. We knew what they were going to do on defense,” said Ford, who credited a change in the team’s game plan that helped confuse the Centennial defense early on.
Bruner struck first for the Lions (4-0, 3-0) with six minutes remaining in the opening frame. Then, on the hands of faceoff specialist John Travisano, the Lions regained possession and Ford recorded his first score of the afternoon less than two minutes later.
The quick lead didn’t stop the Lions’ offense from continuing to win the possession battle as well, as Centennial (3-1, 3-1) failed to record a shot on goal for the entire opening frame.
The Eagles offense finally came to life with seven minutes remaining before the break, when speedy senior Quinn Western connected for his squad’s first goal of the game.
Howard’s response came when Leo Sementilli found Bruner, who cut across the crease and flicked in a shot to put his team ahead by two goals.
Minutes later, after winning the battle on the ground, Brad Zulick scooped and fired as he faded backwards for the score, giving his squad a 4-1 advantage at the half.
The three-goal lead held promise for Creighton, but the coach said his team had potential for more.
“We told the offense it needed to finish,” he said, heading into the third. “We had some great looks, especially in the first quarter.”
The Lions won the opening faceoff of the second half, and following their coach’s advice, they didn’t skip a beat.
Zulick picked up the ground ball and delivered a pass to Sementilli, who then found Ford for his second goal of the game – all in a matter of 15 seconds.
Howard’s stingy defensive attack held the Eagles to just one goal in the second half – a Mike Moore shot that clipped the top bar and bounced in.
“We have to respect the matchups, be confident in our abilities and as long as we can execute, we can get the job done,” said Howard defender Adam Friedman, who Creighton commended for his work on Centennial’s attack throughout the game.
Ahead 5-2 as the fourth quarter began, Howard piled on three more scores in the final 12 minutes. Ford said winning the possession battle allowed the offense to wear the Eagles down, creating opportunities late in the game.
Avenging last year’s home loss against Centennial was important for the Lions, but with a quick turnaround and another county matchup tomorrow, there isn’t time to dwell on that success.
But, armed with a tenacious defense that has only surrendered 11 goals in four games, Creighton’s confidence in his team is only growing.