DeKALB – The Huntley boys soccer team pressed and pressed with the wind at their backs over the final minutes of the Class 3A DeKalb Regional championship, but the Red Raiders just couldn't finish after the Barbs scored an early goal.
After completing one of the most successful regular seasons in school history, Huntley couldn't repeat last year's regional championship win over DeKalb, and its run for a state championship fell short with a 1-0 loss.
“We knew they were going to try to counter us fast; we knew they were going to play hard,” Huntley coach Kris Grabner said. “I knew going in that the winner of this was the favorite in our sectional. I haven't changed my opinion. It's upsetting because I have some players that I've grown very close with.”
Huntley (21-3-2) controlled possession for the first 10 minutes despite facing the strong wind, but the Barbs (19-2) scored first when forward Stephen Darko dispossessed a defender, sprinted into the penalty area and scored with 19:27 left in the half.
After failing to challenge the DeKalb goalkeeper for most of the first half, Reyman Solis and Eduardo Gonzalez fired shots wide from outside the penalty area.
The wind was so strong that it caused punts to drop almost straight to the ground, and the Red Raiders felt confident heading into the second half despite creating just a few chances early.
“Honestly, I thought if we got out of the first half down one, it was in our favor,” Grabner said. “With this wind, them sitting doesn't affect us if we play quick enough. We moved the ball, one-touch passing. I didn't think [the deficit] was that big of a deal to be honest.”
Huntley controlled the second half with the Barbs sitting back. Jack Bessey and Niko Mihalopoulos had shots in the first six minutes, but they couldn't break through.
Over the final 13 minutes, the Red Raiders had chance after chance, starting with Mihalopoulos' shot from the edge of the penalty area that banged off the crossbar. The senior had two more shots in the next five minutes, sending a volley wide and putting a header from a long free kick just off frame.
“It did feel like a goal was coming,” Mihalopoulos said. “We felt some luck in our favor; we felt the momentum coming toward us, and in the end, it was just unlucky. We hit the post, we had chance after chance. The last pass we tried playing was not on our foot. It was very unlucky.”
As much as the Red Raiders tried, they couldn't finish.
Eight senior starters who turned the Huntley soccer program around and won last year's regional championship saw their high school careers end.
“I think the legacy we left is, we're the best team to ever play for this school,” Mihalopoulos said. “We were hoping to go farther with some trophies in our hands, but like I said, DeKalb played us good. We got unlucky. I think the school will remember us very highly.”