Falcons keep rolling, win regional crown
By Bill Hupp
Before the season, Wheaton North head coach Tim McEvilly had a message for senior Jeremy Stapleton.
“I told him before the year started I was going to move him to the backline and that he would score more goals this year than last year,” Coach McEvilly said with a laugh. “And he did. He didn’t score at all last year, but now he has one this year.”
Proving his coach prophetic, Stapleton’s first tally of the season just seven minutes into the game proved to be the decisive goal as Wheaton North upset No. 3-seed Glenbard North and win the Class 3A Glenbard East Regional title, 1-0.
Dan Norton played a nice ball into the box that Zach Oslund chested down to Stapleton, who latched onto it and tapped it past Glenbard North goalie Nathan Chalus.
“No one was marking me, so I just made a run,” Stapleton said. “Zach chested it to me and it was an easy goal.”
“It came off of a restart,” McEvilly said. “We were really dangerous on restarts last game against them, so we were focused on trying to dominate there.”
The Falcons spent the rest of the game defending that lead on a chilly, blustery afternoon with the wind gusting around the field at 21 miles per hour.
That back four of Stapleton, Oslund, Sam Beasley, Armand Torres, and Ethan Taira teamed with midfielders Aaron Deeke and Jason Szumski to help Falcons goalie Alex Jiskra keep a clean sheet.
The Falcons nearly added to their lead early in the second half when the scramble after a free kick left Jackson Duncan with a nice chance, but Chalus got down quickly denying the goal-scoring opportunity and keeping the Panthers close.
Then with less than 10 minutes to play in the game, a Wheaton North (7-11-1) mistake at the back allowed Danny Ramirez to get a breakaway. However, Jiskra came off his goalline alertly and his aggressive slide forced Ramirez to push his shot wide of the post.
Much of the defensive attention was particularly focused on containing Glenbard North’s dangerous striker, Christian Romero. Less than two weeks ago, Glenbard North defeated Wheaton North, 3-2, in the last game of the regular season.
“This afternoon was one of those games that could have gone either way,” McEvilly said. “We kept them in front of us much better this time. Romero is such a dangerous finisher, but we worked harder having two and three guys on him, and giving him no other choice but to dish the ball off to somebody else.”
Glenbard North attacked well on Saturday. The Panthers featured several small but skilled strikers like Romero, C.J. Koeller and Aldo Nolasco who constantly looked to challenge Wheaton North’s defense. But the Falcons backline was physical and made the Panthers run through the gauntlet to get a good look.
This might help explain why the Panthers struggled to hit the net. They unofficially took 14 shots, but only forced Jiskra to save seven of them.
The 1-0 scoreline was Wheaton North’s fourth shutout of the season, and they haven’t surrendered a goal in the playoffs yet.
“The backline earned the victory for us today,” McEvilly said. “My back four were organized, they passed off attackers well. It’s a collective effort for us.”
With the win, the 12th-seeded Falcons have now knocked off the fifth-seed Glenbard West and the fourth-seed Glenbard North in the 2013 state playoffs.
“It’s been a work in progress all year just to get the boys to believe in themselves,” McEvilly said. “We deserved to be a 12-seed, but we have a team that can play with anybody and they’re starting to realize that.”
Another consequence of the victory? The Mohawk haircuts that most of the team is sporting will stay for another few days.
“We all decided to do it in the playoffs for team building,” Stapleton said. “We were going to cut it if we lost, but we’re still going.”
Coming off winning their first regional title since 2009, the Falcons move on in the Schaumburg sectional to face top-seeded St. Charles East, a team for whom McEvilly has a tremendous amount of respect.
“We are playing one of the most dangerous teams in the state,” McEvilly said. “St. Charles East is unbelievable; they deserve to be the number one in the sectional. We’re looking forward to an opportunity to play them and we’ll do the best we can.”