Redhawks fall to Edwardsville in 3A semifinals
By Curt Herron
So many great things have gone Naperville Central's way during the last three years that what happened to it on Friday was rather shocking.
A program that had lost heartbreakers in the last two state matches led Edwardsville 1-0 early in the final half of the Class 3A semifinals.
But within a span of just over a dozen minutes, the Redhawks allowed three goals and faced a 3-1 deficit from which they couldn't recover.
The Tigers' 3-1 come-from-behind victory earned them a spot in Saturday's 7 p.m. championship against Wheeling, a 3-0 winner over Lake Park.
Meanwhile, coach Troy Adams' squad will have to settle for a rematch with the Lancers in the 5 p.m. consolation match in Hoffman Estates.
Central was hoping to become just the second large school to reach three straight championship matches, joining Granite City in that class.
Instead, Mark Heiderscheid's Tigers will play for their fourth title since 2000, when the Metro East program won their only championship.
The win also provided a measure of revenge for Edwardsville, which dropped a 1-0 decision to Central in the super-sectional a year ago.
"Unfortunately there's really only one good way to end a season and this clearly wasn't the result that we wanted or the one that we were prepared for," Adams said.
"I've said it before, that you can play a good game of soccer and work your tail off and do everything that a coach or a team expects of you and catch some bad breaks and I thought that we caught some bad breaks.
"How many times do you see a ball go off of the post and go off of a goalie's head and some how go out of bounds? If you get that goal, that's the difference in a game a lot of times."
The Redhawks (18-3-2) grabbed a 1-0 halftime lead over the Tigers (20-3-2) but very easily could have enjoyed a bigger advantage.
Following the first half's midpoint, Ben Border found Jordi Heeneman, but the latter's attempt was halted by keeper Brendan Heaton.
A short time later, Sam Reskala got free up top and threatened but Josh Kowalis stepped in to break the play up for the Tigers.
Things finally clicked for Central in the 26th minute when Devon Amoo-Mensah got open and fired in a long try for the first goal.
"This sucks now but playing the last four years with these guys has been a great time and I'm going to look back at it and miss it," Amoon-Mensah said.
Amoo-Mensah was denied on a try a short time later and then Jay Tegge fired in a liner which forced a diving save by Heaton.
The Tiger keeper was involved in a sequence in the 39th minute which nearly led to what would have been a huge goal for Central.
David Murphy's liner deflected off of the post before hitting Heaton in the head and then bouncing away instead of into the net.
Mitch McGuire even fired in a liner shortly before the halftime break but that effort was also thwarted to keep it a one-goal match.
Edwardsville completely changed the complexion of things in the final half when its first attempt with the wind at its back went in.
Liam Burke sent in a free kick from about 50 yards away which dipped in just under the crossbar to even things in the 44th minute.
"It's very crucial that you come out and either attempt to score or you finish a goal early," Heiderscheid said. "When you're down 1-0, wind or no wind, I think it' just psychologically very important to get the first one.
"As long as it stays 1-0, the more that it puts pressure on the team that's trying to catch up. Soccer is so much about psychology so when you get the one goal with the wind, it really changes the momentum and rile the other team."
Just under 100 seconds later, the Tigers moved in front for good when Brent Heinlein found Suleman Bazai, who put in a short shot.
That quick one-two punch definitely rattled Central, which hadn't experienced many situations like that in the past few seasons.
"We didn't really stay organized in the back and they got that second goal quickly," said Drake Swope. "That gave them most of the momentum and obviously the lead."
The Redhawks looked for the equalizer but a liner and a corner kick from Tegge were both punched away and a Reskala try went wide.
Edwardsville struck again in the 56th minute when Bazai scored to mark just the third time that Central had allowed three goals.
It had only allowed multiple goals in four matches all year and had yielded just two tallies in its first five playoff contests.
"After they started scoring more and more I kind felt that our confidence was going down and that third goal just killed us," Reskala said.
The Redhawks didn't get very many good opportunities the rest of the way, with Amoo-Mensah and Heeneman both being turned away.
They had perhaps their best chance in the 70th minute when Murphy found Amoo-Mensah in front but Bailey Winfield cleared the ball.
A free kick from Tegge went just over the net five minutes later and the Tigers ran out the rest of the time to secure their win.
"We have just a talented group of players and have been able to trust each other with the ball and could count on each guy to pass the ball," Tegge said.
"If you don't have the talent and have to play to one player, you're not going to have the 'we' that we did this year. It sucks now but we're all extremely proud of our team."
The Tigers coach praised the Redhawks for their play throughout the season and the standard that they've set the past few years.
"Naperville Central was in the state championship game two years straight and was probably favored to get there again," Heiderscheid said. "So for us, it was a great opportunity. We played them last year and had a very nice game.
"Then we get another chance to play them and what better situation than in the state semifinals to play a great team. You'd almost rather have that than to have an easier draw because it doesn't make it quite as meaningful.
"Naperville Central is certainly a team that we respect and I think that everybody else in the state of Illinois does, as well."