The DeKalb boys soccer team won all of its matches but two during the regular season, but small mistakes on the back line still bothered coach Brent McIntosh, who knew his team would need a clean defensive game or two to make a run in the playoffs.
With an explosive offense, the Barbs (19-2) won plenty of matches by multiple goals, but they’d often let the opposition find a goal at some point during a big victory.
“We were kind of having a problem with that one goal,” McIntosh said. “We kind of spent some time talking about it, we spent some time cleaning up some of those small mistakes in the box that we were making to give up those goals, and we challenged ourselves to pick that up.”
The Barbs turned that trend around in Saturday’s 1-0 win over Huntley in the Class 3A DeKalb Regional final, when they shut out a team that had scored 77 goals this season.
The Red Raiders certainly pressured the DeKalb goal, but most of Huntley’s shots came from the edge of the penalty area or beyond.
“We really worked together well as a defensive unit,” central midfielder Eric Ngum said. “The center mids, the outside mids and the defenders, we all dropped and helped in defending. Previously in the season, we hadn’t really been focused on that, but we got everyone focused on that defensively.”
Today, DeKalb will take on McHenry (12-8-3) in a Class 3A Huntley Sectional semifinal. While the Barbs say they aren’t looking past the Warriors, they certainly enter as heavy favorites after beating McHenry, 6-0, earlier in the season.
A win could set up a rematch with Hononegah, the only team side from Huntley to beat DeKalb this season. The Barbs took a lead when the teams played Sept. 10, but Hononegah scored two late goals in the Barbs’ first loss of the season.
DeKalb is a different team than it was early in the season, and a defense that lost All-Area honorees Andrew Stratton and Nick Sablich to graduation has come together in the past two months.
“We’ve definitely improved on our defense,” defender Will Ferguson said. “With our offense being better than it was last year, it kind of compensates and it’s the right combination. I think we’ve improved a lot.”
That improvement continued Saturday when DeKalb beat Huntley without any of its offensive stars having a standout performance. To McIntosh, the match showed the Barbs can win in a multitude of ways.
“By beating Huntley, we’ve proven to ourselves how good we can be both offensively and defensively,” McIntosh said. “[Saturday] we had to rely on that defending, where in the previous 19 matches, our offense was our catalyst. … I think that’s going to be a huge confidence boost for us going into the sectionals so that now we have some proof that we’re a good defending team as well, when you couple that with our offense, I think that we’re taking a strong team into the sectionals.”
Class 3A Huntley Sectional
Larkin vs. Hononegah, 5 p.m.
DeKalb vs. McHenry, 7 p.m.
Winner Larkin/Hononegah vs. Winner DeKalb/McHenry, 5 p.m.