For the second time this season, everything came down to penalty kicks between University High and Northlake Christian.
And for the second time this season, Northlake Chrisitan senior goalkeeper Adam Riche saved the day as the No. 3-seeded Wolverines defeated second-seeded Cubs 3-1 in penalty kicks to advance to the Division III State Championship. The game was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation.
Riche produced a pair of diving saves during the shootout, but it was U-High junior Major Mittendorf’s missed shot that sent the Wolverines charging at their keeper in celebration.
“The emotion is indescribable,” Riche said in between water-bottle showers from teammates. “It’s the greatest feeling ever.”
The Cubs jumped out to an 1-0 lead in the 14th minute, when senior Thomas Kobetz threw a ball to the back post, where Sam Pennington headed it into the net.
Pennington’s goal was just about the only real offensive threat for either side in the first half, though, as the period was largely marred by a swarm of early penalties.
In the first half alone, both teams combined for 20 penalties, including 14 for U-High.
Cubs coach Chris Mitchell said while penalties gave his team some extra set pieces, it was frustrating to not build a rhythm.
It took Northlake Christian until the second half to find its momentum, scoring two goals within five minutes of the opening whistle.
Just two minutes into the half, Northlake Christian’s Nathan Pearl carried the ball down the sideline, where he ripped a shot at the near post, just barely slipping it past the U-High keeper.
Northlake took its only lead of regulation three minutes later when Josh Landry found the far upper corner of the net from 6 yards out.
The two goals Northlake Christian scored were the only goals U-High allowed in four postseason matches.
The night took a more serious turn in the 48th minute when Northlake Christian’s leading scorer, senior Mason Cook, went down with broken ankle, forcing the game into a 37-minute delay as he waited for medical attention.
“Mason Cook is a huge part of our team,” said Northlake Christian coach Nick Chetta. “But these boys are resilient and they’re winners.”
But for U-High, Mitchell said the stoppage gave the Cubs time to regroup after the poor start.
It apparently worked as Ben Smith scored just seconds after play resumed to tie it at 2.
“For some reason, after halftime, we got a little discombobulated in the back and when that first goal happened we all thought, ‘Wait, we’re going to get scored on,’ ” an emotional Mitchell said. “But Northlake Christian is a good team. It’s not like they’re going to quit on us.”
Northlake Christian will play No. 1 St. Louis in the final on Thursday at Tad Gormley Stadium.