WARRENSBURG — Monticello’s defense limited Blue Ridge’s scoring opportunities for the first 10 minutes of the match.
Then the Knights got a good chance.
And then another.
Jon Jones put Blue Ridge on the board, sneaking a header past Monticello keeper Isaac Schumacher in the 13th minute, and added another goal in the second half to lead Blue Ridge past the Sages 3-0 in a Class 1A sectional semifinal Tuesday.
“Real good win,” Knights coach Marty Price said. “Probably the best game, by far, the midfield has ever played. Midfield controlled the ball, possessed the ball; they kept it up to our forwards, who didn’t have to do much on defense.”
After Blue Ridge (22-2-1) broke through for its first goal, the Knights sent ball after ball into the Sages’ box, keeping Monticello in a constant state of pressure that produced another goal — this time by Travys Nichols on a cross from Coale Dolbert — with 11:37 left in the half and a 2-0 lead.
“If you’ve seen us play for a couple games, you know we’re a second-half team,” Price said. “This is one of the first games we’ve played a good first half. The last time we played these guys (Monticello) we won 4-1, and they were up 1-0 at half.
“This is the first time we’ve beaten Monticello two times in the same year.”
Nichols, who moved from midfielder to forward earlier this season, was able to chest the pass sent across the goal by Dolbert’s left foot into the corner of the net.
“I love playing forward,” Nichols said. “You don’t have to run as much as you do in the midfield, but your touches mean a lot more up there.”
Monticello coach Lois Cryder said Blue Ridge’s pressure made a difference.
“We’re a bit more of a space team and a possession team, and it just didn’t work,” Cryder said.
The Knights’ offensive strategy is simple: put the ball in space near the goal and let their athletes go to work. Blue Ridge was often the faster, bigger and stronger team in most of its matches this season, but Price knows that will change starting Saturday, when his team faces the winner of today’s Williamsville-Macomb semifinal.
“The farther we go, the more physicality we’re going to see, the more big guys we’re going to see, the more speed we’re going to see,” Price said.
Jones, a senior captain, said he hasn’t forgotten the Knights failed to make it this far last year, losing in the sectional semifinal. He added there’s no doubt the team will be ready for the opportunity to advance to state.
“I’m nervous,” Jones said about Saturday’s sectional championship. “But we’re going to prep a lot. We’ve never been here before as a team or as a school. I think everyone’s nervous and yet very excited.”
Monticello (11-9-1) is a young squad, playing plenty of freshmen and sophomores who won the school’s third regional title in five years.
“We’re disappointed with the loss, but unless you are state champions or finish (in) third place, your season’s going to end with a loss,” Cryder said.
“This has been a very fun and rewarding season. These guys have worked extremely hard.”
In Class 2A regionals:
At Champaign. Saul Downie, David Anderson and Brian Lopez each scored, leading the Tigers to a 3-1 semifinal victory at Franklin School in Champaign.
Top-seeded Urbana will play second-seeded Champaign Central for the title Saturday.
“They looked really good,” Tigers coach Randy Blackman said of the Maroons, who lost 2-1 to Urbana in the regular season. “I thought they looked fabulous. (Earlier this season) it was a close match. Probably will be a close match again. It will be a good game, I’m sure.”
Downie scored in the 26th minute, but the Vikings tied the match five minutes later when Jon Huff finished a cross from Chase Norton.
“Danville played really well. I give their coach a lot of credit,” Blackman said. “They put some pressure on us. Hopefully that will wake us up and get us ready to go because the next game will be a tough one.”
In the 64th minute, Anderson scored on an assist by Lukusa. The Tigers completed the scoring in the 74th minute when Lopez scored off another Lukusa assist.
Urbana outshot the Vikings 15-3. Danville keeper Cameron Griffin recorded 10 saves.
“I am extremely proud of the team,” Vikings coach Chris Griffin said. “Our effort was outstanding, and we pushed Urbana to the limit. We had a number of guys really step up tonight, and the entire team stayed focused and on task. We knew we weren’t able to play them straight up, they are simply too talented, so we developed a game plan and really worked it well. We made a couple of mistakes, and with a team as talented as Urbana, they will make you pay for those mistakes, and that is what happened tonight.”
The Tigers’ experience was the difference, Blackman said.
“We’re a little older, a little more seasoned. ... We played a little scared at first, and you can’t play that way,” Blackman said.
At Normal West. Aaron Penick scored on an assist from Andrew Shroyer to give fifth-seeded Mahomet-Seymour a 1-0 lead in the first half, but the top-seeded Purple Raiders rallied to win 2-1 in the semifinal match at Normal West.