STERLING – Soccer’s quirky nature was on full display Friday night.
An early offensive explosion gave way to long stretches of minimal scoring chances and, ultimately, heartbreak for the Kaneland boys soccer team, which fell, 3-2, in overtime to East Moline United in the IHSA Class 2A Sterling Sectional final.
“It can change, that’s why you just have to give it your all, all the time,” Kaneland senior midfielder Ben Longson said. “You never know when it can change.”
United advances to Tuesday’s Hampshire Super-Sectional against the winner of today’s Grayslake Central Sectional final between Harvard and St. Viator.
After a scoreless second half, the match went to overtime tied at 2. An inadvertent hand ball early in OT gave the Panthers’ Drew Merideth a free kick from just outside the penalty area, a free kick that the Knights needed to prepare for with less hesitance, according to Kaneland coach Scott Parillo.
“I don’t know what we were thinking when we were setting up that wall,” Parillo said. “It was taking too long, and they didn’t have to wait. I don’t know why we thought that they would have to wait, and so they ripped it in. Great shot, good for them, game over.”
Well, not quite. New IHSA overtime rules this year scrapped a sudden-death goal in favor of a pair of 10-minute overtime sessions, but the Knights were unable to find the equalizer in the remaining 18:27 of extra time.
The Knights, making their first sectional final appearance in program history, were on the defensive for most of the late stages of the second half, though United generated few legitimate scoring chances against a Kaneland defense that dug in as the match unfolded.
“We held them tight in the second half,” senior defender Jason Biddle said. “I was feeling pretty good going into overtime.”
An eventful first half ended with the teams tied 2-all after Kaneland (16-4-2) tied the match five minutes before halftime, thanks to a United own-goal. The Panthers misplayed a ball served into the box from Knights defender Alex Koczka.
The Panthers (24-3) conceded an early goal to Kaneland’s Tyler Siebert, who caught United’s defense out of position to put the Knights up 1-0 with 34:36 to play in the first half.
But United struck back quickly as senior Mamdou Ba scored less than two minutes later following a nifty move. Ba’s exuberant, shirt-tugging reaction prompted a yellow card.
United then claimed a 2-1 lead with 13:53 to go in the first half when senior Dustin Barts ripped a free kick past Knights goalkeeper Marshall Farthing from about 28 yards out.
The loss marked the end of the line for nine Kaneland seniors, a group that Parillo has admired since their youth soccer days leading up to high school.
“They’re a great group of kids,” Parillo said. “They were crazy. They always made practice and bus rides exciting. You never knew what to expect out of them. It was a lot of fun.”