By: Luke Drase
A Tuesday evening regional double header at Niles North ended in a thrilling, yet controversial fashion.
The regional semi-final winners featured the number one seed in the sectional Glenbrook North, who defeated Maine East 4-0 to earn their fourth straight regional final appearance, and CPS school Taft, who defeated the hosts Niles North by a score of 2-1.
GBN and Maine East kicked off the evenings proceedings as the early match. The Spartans got on the board straight away, with a goal just one minute and 30 seconds into the match.
After the opening goal, Maine East seemed to settle in, keeping the GBN attack at bay by playing five in the back. The Demons did not see many opportunities going forward, but their bend, don’t break style kept them within striking distance.
For a while, it looked as though GBN would go into the half with only a one goal advantage, but in the final two minutes before the break GBN struck twice with goals from Sahil Modi and Deng Deng Kur to make it a 3-0 game.
That was all GBN needed to cruise towards the finish. During the second half, the Spartans held up possession in the midfield and did not allow Maine East to push forward at all.
GBN capped off the night with one final goal off a set piece to make it a 4-0 final, ending Maine East’s season in the process.
The second and final match of the night featured a City/Suburban showdown between the eighth seed Taft, and tenth seed Niles North.
Playing in front of their home crowd, it didn’t take long for Niles North to get on the board. Less than a minute into the match, the Vikings drove down field, and scored the opening goal to give them a 1-0 lead.
Despite finding themselves in a early hole, Taft kept their heads held high and dominated possession for the rest of the first half.
Taft finally found the equilizer with 17:30 left in the first half. A defensive breakdown by Niles North allowed Jakob Lapinski to be unmarked in the Vikings box, who finished with a shot into the top left corner of the net.
The rest of the first half did not see any more quality scoring chances, but both teams were playing extremely aggressive, which led to some chippy-ness between the two sides.
Out of the halftime huddle, both teams started bolting down the pitch without much regard for defending their own net.
This wide open play saw plenty of chances for both teams, but neither could quite find the breakthrough they were looking for.
Niles North almost found the go ahead goal with 16 minutes left in the game as Jalen Success snuck through the Taft defense to set up a one on one opportunity with the Taft goalie, but Success was unable to get his shot past the sprawling keeper and the match remained level at one.
Finally, with just over ten minutes to go the deadlock was broken through a crazy sequence of events.
Taft stormed up field and managed to get a shot off that was brilliantly saved by a diving effort from Onel Yousif. Unfortunately for Niles North, the ball laid down right at the goal mouth, the Vikings managed to clear it off the line yet again, but could not corral the ball for a third time as Taft’s Patrick Knap finally put the ball in the back of the net to give Taft the 2-1 lead.
Now behind with less than minutes left in the game, Niles North bombed forward throwing everything they had at the Taft defense but the Eagles remained strong.
With just one minute left in the game, Niles North found themsleves with a free kick in a dangerous area. The ball was sent into the box, flicked off a few heads and ended up in the back of the net, seemingly giving them an equilizer.
However, an extremely controversial foul was called in the box against a Niles North player who actually ended up on the ground during the play while the Taft defender remained standing.
The foul disallowed the goal prompting Niles North coach, Filip Cejovic to storm onto the pitch screaming at the referees, but it was to no avail.
Taft finished off the final minute of the match to win 2-1, ending a nine year winless streak in the IHSA playoffs.
Taft will have the tough task of facing top seeded GBN at 11:00 AM on Saturday at Niles North for the regional title.