BURLINGTON – Kaneland senior defender Sam Rymarz sported his usual headband during Saturday's Class 2A Burlington Central Regional final.
The accessory kept him from constantly wiping his brow as the host Rockets pressured the Kaneland boys soccer team, but Rymarz and company only felt true relief when the match was over.
"For the last, like, 20 minutes, they just kept bombing it down at us, and we were just doing our best to clear the ball out, relieve pressure and regroup when the ball was up," Rymarz said.
Knights goalkeeper Marshall Farthing deflected a point-blank chance from BC standout Bryce Warner in the closing seconds, securing a 2-1 victory. Kaneland (15-3-2) advanced to face Freeport in a Sterling Sectional semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Whether playing with the wind or against it, Central (17-4-2) threatened the top-seeded Knights throughout, holding its regional rivals to six shots.
BC kept coming with scoring chances, and arguably had its best when Warner – limited down the stretch by a tender hamstring – made contact with a free kick in the last 30 seconds. Farthing elevated and tipped the ball over the crossbar.
"Every time we got the ball in their half of the field, the entire defense just let out a sigh of relief," Farthing said. "We did not want it on our side at all. We were nervous, without a doubt, but we had confidence in each other that we'd be able to get it out, and that's what happened."
The Rockets, who won the Big Northern Conference East crown, scored 10 minutes before halftime, when Alan Camarena finished Warner's sliding, hustling pass that crossed right to left in front of the goal.
Camarena created opportunities several times in the second half, but too often encountered the Knights' game back line, including Rymarz, Jason Biddle and Alec Koczka.
"The whole half was down in their end," Central coach Mike Gecan said. "They might have gotten one shot or two shots the whole half. We had, what, 20? Thirty, maybe? We just couldn't put the ball in the goal. It's kind of been a thing that we've struggled with all season. We just don't know how to put the ball in the goal."
Kaneland coach Scott Parillo foresaw one of his side's offensive bugaboos during practice this week. The Knights devoted much of their effort to being more efficient with finishing corner kicks, a scenario the team capitalized upon for the eventual game-winner.
Just 1:15 after Alex Gil took a Diego Ochoa feed and blasted a 35-yard shot past Central keeper Brett Rau for the game's first goal, Gil lined up for a free kick.
He sent the ball to the upper left corner of the goal, where only a rising Koczka could get it. Koczka did, and the Knights had a 2-0 lead with 18:05 to go before intermission. Not to mention faith in the power of repetition.
"With regionals being a factor – you're one and done – we've been working on it moreso than anything," Koczka said."So that makes a big difference."
Knights midfielder Matt Vander Sande rolled his ankle in the second half, but Parillo said he appears to be OK in the long-term. He called the injury "par for the course" for a team that features two players with sizable arm casts in Koczka and Parillo's son, midfielder Anthony Parillo.
For Central, there was no bandaging the thought of missed chances.
"I think both teams came out extremely flat," Gecan said. "I think the game was wide-open and they seized the opportunity before we did."