WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP – Immaculate Heart coach Eric Pfiefer loaded up the September schedule to solve some of the questions about his team.
On Tuesday, his players had all the answers for the No. 1 girls soccer team in North Jersey.
Sparked by the midfield play of Maddy Hayes and a monster second half, the Blue Eagles stormed past top-ranked DePaul, 5-1, in a Big North United match.
The Blue Eagles flicked in five straight goals after the break to clinch their most important win to date. The kind of win that drew the student section onto the field to share in the celebration.
"It feels amazing," Hayes said. "The last three years I've been here it's been a really big battle for us. It was amazing to show what this team can accomplish."
The momentum started to swing toward No. 6 IHA on a slick combination play in the 51st minute.
Samantha McGee crept up from the back and sent a cross to Ava Cardone in the middle. Cardone got off a clean volley for her first varsity goal to tie the score at one.
"Euphoric," the Franklin Lakes native said. "It feels pretty good."
Hayes buried the winner by following up on a rebound, then Sophia Bertino, Caitlin Forshay and Alex Barry added insurance goals in the battle for first place.
What it means
Immaculate Heart and DePaul have been in a class of their own when it comes to private school soccer on this side of the state. Their trophy cases have swelled in the last four years alone, with three state titles and seven sectional titles between them. Their annual games are always circled and starred on their respective calendars.
This was the first time that one of their showdowns was decided by four goals since 2014, when the Blue Eagles finished unbeaten.
"It's my first year on varsity and it's amazing the team that we've put together," Cardone said. "It's amazing to be a part of that culture. To crush a rival always feel good."
Inside the match
Things didn't always look good for Immaculate Heart (4-2-1) on Tuesday.
The Spartans were winning the territorial battle and the one on the scoreboard after an Alexis Kochan goal in the 15th minute. And when the Blue Eagles were able to break through, DePaul transfer goalie Arianna Karwoski was there to thwart them with one athletic stop after another. She robbed Barry on a breakaway and a stood tall on a clean right-footed rip from Stella DelSordo from about 15 yards out.
It seemed like DePaul was on its way to beating IHA for the sixth time in seven tries.
Then came halftime and a return to the Blue Eagle identity.
"We had to keep it simple," Pfeifer said. "We had plenty of open options in the first half that we weren't finding. We were trying to attack from 50 yards from goal as opposed to combining and getting more numbers into the attack and being dangerous from different angles. In the second half, we were able to play one and two touch."
The comeback was a microcosm of the season for the Blue Eagles, who have now reeled off three straight victories. Some tough early opponents gave Pfeifer an honest assessment of his team and the Blue Eagles coach responded by tweaking the way his group attacks.
"We changed a little bit in how we move off the ball," Pfeifer said. "I think that's really shown in the last couple of games. We've gone on a mini-winning streak and hope to keep it going. But we have to put in the effort, energy and most importantly the calm first simple pass."
DePaul heads over to Wayne Valley on Thursday for a battle between the top two seeds in the upcoming Passaic County tournament.
Immaculate Heart will play Bergen Tech this Thursday in Hackensack.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Down goes No. 1: IHA takes down DePaul in marquee girls soccer battle