FRANKFORT — One win away.
From greatness. From history. From a state championship.
The Urbana boys’ soccer team inched closer to winning the program’s first state title after it beat Arlington Heights St. Viator 2-1 on Friday afternoon in a Class 2A state semifinal at Lincoln-Way North High School.
“It feels great,” Urbana senior midfielder Miguel Fierro said. “It’s a dream come true. We deserve this. We deserve all of it.”
The Tigers (21-2) will play Peoria Notre Dame (21-2-2) at 1 p.m. today in the state championship match. While the Tigers will play in their first state title match in school history, the Irish have won three state titles and advanced to the state semifinals 11 times in the past 15 years.
“They’re used to playing in it,” Urbana coach Randy Blackman joked. “We’re not.”
The Tigers held off a surging St. Viator offense for the victory. Leading 2-0 with less than two minutes left, the Lions (20-4-3) put one past Tigers senior keeper Brian Summers with 1:37 left that cut Urbana’s lead to one.
“I always want the shutout, but I’ll take the win every day,” Summers said. “The win is more important to me.”
But St. Viator never threatened in the final 90 seconds, with Fierro dribbling out the final 10 seconds at midfield.
Senior forward Troy Wheeler’s goal was the only time St. Viator broke past Summers and a steady Tigers defense, but the Lions had multiple opportunities in the second half.
St. Viator had four corner kicks in the match compared with one by Urbana, but each time it seemed St. Viator might tie the match, Urbana’s defense stayed stingy.
“I feel I’ve got the best defense in the state,” Summers said. “They’ve been strong all year.”
Senior forward Jonathan Lukusa especially. The Tigers’ most imposing player on the field, Lukusa used all of his 6-foot-1 frame to consistently clear balls from the Tigers’ goal box.
He made sure Urbana’s 1-0 lead stayed intact with 16 minutes left. A St. Viator free kick from 25 yards out on the right side found its way past the four-man wall the Tigers had set up. But with Lukusa guarding the far left post — where the ball was headed with Summers frantically trying to make up ground — Lukusa cleared the ball with his right foot and preserved Urbana’s one-goal lead.
“Jon has been playing really smart the past few games,” Fierro said. “Whenever we’re up like that in a dangerous situation, he drops and is a huge defensive help.”
He’s also a huge offensive help. Lukusa showed why two minutes later.
Senior forward Brian Lopez flicked a pass to Lukusa, who ran through the ball. With St. Viator senior keeper Michael McGrath coming off his line, Lukusa had no problem finishing his 21st goal of the season from 15 yards to give Urbana a 2-0 lead with 13:58 remaining in the match.
“He was outstanding,” Blackman said. “He just played like a beast. He was absolutely awesome. He’s so athletic and covers so much ground.”
Summers came through with a crucial save in the final 10 minutes. Wheeler broke free of Urbana’s defense and unleashed a shot from 12 yards. But Summers managed to make the save, which became even more important after St. Viator’s late goal.
“We practice that every single day with you having to go one-on-one with a player,” Summers said. “I thought back on practice, and just thinking of David (Anderson) or Miguel coming up on me, and me making the save.”
The Tigers struck first, scoring with 19:36 left before halftime to take a 1-0 lead into the second half. Junior midfielder Saul Downie, on the right side, switched fields with a well-placed cross. Sophomore midfielder David Anderson ran onto the ball and flicked a shot from 5 yards past McGrath into the left side of the net.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Downie said. “I just sort of turned and hit it. It worked out really well. It’s not really something you can plan and think about. It’s just instinct really.”
It was only Anderson’s sixth goal of the season, but it gave the Tigers a jolt of energy after a somewhat-shaky start.
“Saul played a great ball in,” Anderson said. “I kind of lost the keeper in the sun, and all I could see was the side panel and where he wasn’t, so I put it there and just wished for the best.”
Now it’s onto today’s match. Regardless of the outcome, Urbana will head back to Champaign County with the school’s best finish.
“This is just really the culmination of everything we’ve worked for,” Downie said. “We’re all really excited, and we’re ready for it.”