Neshaminy boys’ lacrosse coach John Donato paid tribute to his 11 seniors by writing his version of the big game that was never played – the annual ‘Grandpa Cup’ contest against archrival Pennsbury.
Neshaminy lacrosse beat Pennsbury 12-10, to win back “Grandpa Cup”
(In a game that COVID-19 took from us all)
May 1 2020, Langhorne - Another underdog team with a one-goal lead in the final minutes of a high school lacrosse contest may have gained possession on a loose ball scrum on the offensive end and opted to hold the ball in order to chew some clock and hope to preserve an upset win.
“We said it before the game. Every time they’re on the sideline, we’re saying, ‘We’re playing to win. We are not playing not to lose,’” Neshaminy coach John Donato said. “You don’t win the game by playing scared. This was Pennsbury, we wanted to take it to them.”
Perhaps it’s what led senior midfielder Dawson Obringer, after scooping up a loose ball near the Pennsbury net, to immediately attack, pushing Neshaminy’s advantage to two scores with under two minutes remaining in Friday night’s annual rivalry game between Neshaminy and Pennsbury. It was the proverbial dagger for the favored Falcons in Neshaminy’s 12-10 victory in front of a large, festive and raucous crowd that were in attendance as part of Middletown’s Community Park night.
“We were up by one,” Obringer said of the final shot of his high school career. “Pennsbury was trying to force turnovers. The ball popped out, and I battled for the groundball and just went right to the goal and fired a zinger that I knew one way or another was going to seal the deal.”
“Dawson is a terrific two sport athlete and is always a gamer,” coach Donato said. “It seemed like he never came off the field, playing midfield on both ends as well as man-up and man down. Dawson has what I like to define as the ‘It factor.’ The team depends on him to step up in big situations. That moment in the game was surely one of them, and he delivered.”
“We put in the preparation,” Neshaminy senior keeper Garrison Toto said. “Our team defense stayed tight and aggressive and trusted each other. Thomas Fitch was awesome - he totally shut down their D2 commit attackman.”
“Thomas is one of our senior team leaders” coach Donato said of Fitch. “He’s strong and athletic, and is always positive and encouraging to his teammates. Thomas only really started playing lacrosse his junior year, and has developed into one of the better close defenders in the SOL.”
Toto, who plans to continue his lacrosse career at Albright College, was the one who said back on March 2 during the first day of practice that this season’s group could definitely have a successful year. Toto played arguably the best game of the season Friday night, coming up huge with a remarkable eighteen saves, some in spectacular fashion.
After Pennsbury took an early 3-0 lead, Neshaminy senior Charlie Potash started to get the better of the faceoff X, consistently besting Pennsbury’s SOL All League faceoff specialist and energizing Neshaminy’s senior attack duo of Jake Purdy (3 goals) and Joey DeMatteo (2 goals), who accounted for five unanswered scores to take the lead 5-3.
“Charlie is just such a terrific athlete and teammate, and he has had a standout senior year in all facets of the game,” coach Donato said. “Charlie is probably the fastest player on our team and he has evolved into one of the best faceoff guys in the league, as well as a key goal scorer and outstanding defensive middie.”
“Jake Purdy and Joey DeMatteo have led the offense the entire year,” Donato continued. “They have both worked incredibly hard on their game, and their confidence has just exploded over the course of the season.
“The success of our attacking offense is primarily attributed to the skills and leadership of those two seniors. Jake totally smoked their D1 commit defender on a dodge from the wing to score a key goal, and Joey did the same, dogging from X, dusting his defender and delivering a perfectly placed drop shot under their goalie’s legs. It was beautiful to watch.”
After Pennsbury tied it at 5-5, senior Noah Weiman took charge at the midfield, scoring the next three goals - two simply by overpowering his defender and one off a gorgeous feed from senior Sean Gutekunst.
“Sean always plays with courage and a big heart, and his stick work is quite skilled,” coach Donato said. “His feed to Noah was right where Noah wanted it - all Noah had to do was finish.”
“I knew I could take their short-sticks to the net so I kept going,” Weiman said. “I knew some of my shots weren’t falling at first but I keep grinding.”
“Noah is another gamer for us” Coach Donato said. “He really took the game over at that stage of the contest. Noah is an experienced player with still untapped abilities. I believe he has the potential to compete at the next level if he decides to do so and stays committed to the work effort.”
In an entertaining game of competitive swings, it was Pennsbury’s turn, stringing together three straight goals to tie the match again at 8-8 before Neshaminy senior Justin Hepler stung the back of the Pennsbury net with a laser shot off a nifty dodge for a 9-8 Skins advantage.
“Justin loves the game and he’s always staying after practice working on his shot” coach Donato said. “It really paid off in that moment - we needed it to stop Pennsbury’s momentum.”
Senior Kash Hiltner, demonstrating his great strength and speed, powered his way to winning the ensuring faceoff and raced down the alley, firing a hard bounce shot past a flustered Falcon keeper to up Neshaminy’s lead 10-8 late into the fourth quarter.
With the Neshaminy supporters cheering loudly, it was clear that the Pennsbury team was starting to play with a sense of urgency that came with knowing they were looking at a defeat at the hands of their heated rival. Stepping up the pressure, the Falcons quickly scored two goals off unsettled situations to tie the score once again 10-10.
With under four minutes remaining, Neshaminy senior midfielder Mason Demi made a spectacular defensive stop and takeaway while playing one on one against Pennsbury’s top scoring midfielder. Demi swallowed up the loose ball and sprinted down the field, dodging past Falcon defenders and firing a pass to Sean Gutekunst on the point. Gutekunst threw a dart into the stick of a cutting Hepler, who then fed a trailing Demi who continued to the goal and pinged his shot into the upper corner of the net for an 11-10 Skins’ lead.
“Mason is a terrific two sport athlete” coach Donato said of Demi. “He’s a quiet team leader and just an outstanding young man both on and off the field. I would argue that that single individual play was the highlight of the game.”
Pennsbury won the faceoff and set up their offense to fire away for the would-be tying goal, but Toto was up to the challenge, stuffing three close-in opportunities and gobbling up a blazing shot that everyone watching thought was ticketed for the corner of the net.
Toto quickly cleared to Fitch who hit Weiman on the breakout. Weiman was forced back on the clear but kept his composure and led a perfect pass to Purdy securing possession in the offensive end. Purdy quickly found DeMatteo behind the cage who dodged numerous Falcon defenders while eating up precious clock time.
With under two minutes remaining Pennsbury’s pressure “D” forced a loose ball. It was then that Obringer won the biggest groundball of the day, and his heroics secured a Neshaminy two-goal advantage which Neshaminy held on for an enthusiastic 12-10 win and possession of Grandpa Cup.
It was only fitting that the Neshaminy seniors played significant roles in the guts and glory upset victory.
“Joey DeMatteo, Mason Demi, Thomas Fitch, Sean Gutekunst, Justin Helper Kash Hiltner, Dawson Obringer, Charlie Potash, Jake Purdy, Garrison Toto, and Noah Weiman played their hearts out knowing it was their last high school lacrosse game,” coach Donato said of his seniors. “Those 11 young men are really exceptional. They have been together for four years. The coaches and I realized after our early season scrimmage at Quakertown that the team chemistry was going to gel, and that these eleven seniors were destined to have a wonderful 2020 season.”
Coach’s note: Although COVID-19 has proven to be bigger than any sport, it doesn't change that lacrosse was to be a source of purpose. This lost season and the distinctly unique experiences that would have been part of it will always be difficult to understand and accept. Our heart aches for the entire 2020 Neshaminy Boys Lacrosse Team, but there will always be an enduring hurt for all that the senior class has had taken from them. They have now shifted their focus to the future, a hopeful future.
Maybe a simple graduation ceremony? A summer together celebrating, an enrollment in college in the fall as they had expected it to be, joining the military, or pursuing a trade. We want to wish them all the best of luck in their futures, and without the opportunity to get to see them on the field this past spring and recognize them for the efforts with a loud ovation, we wanted to give them a “virtual” round of applause and let them know that we will always be rooting for them.
Good luck to the graduating lacrosse seniors of the class of 2020! Go Skins!