Runner-up Illineks hold their heads high

Runner-up Illineks hold their heads high

NORMAL — Patrick Wong found himself alone with the soccer ball.

The Urbana Uni High senior forward had a breakaway chance midway through the second half of Saturday night’s Class 1A boys’ soccer state championship match against Alton Marquette.

With his team trailing 2-0 and desperately needing a goal, Wong unleashed a hard right-footed shot from 15 yards out on the right side, much like he has throughout his stellar prep career.

More times than not, it has resulted in a goal, including a team-leading 27 this season.

But not on this night.

Marquette defeated the Illineks 4-1 at The Corn Crib to deny head coach Phil Anders’ squad a chance to become the first boys’ soccer team from Champaign County to win a state championship. The Illineks closed the season at 22-3-1.

“Patrick’s a great finisher,” said Tarik Koric, Uni’s senior midfielder who played the through ball to Wong. “I was confident he was going to make it, but I guess it just wasn’t our day.”

No, it wasn’t.

On Wong’s breakaway, Marquette freshman defender Adam Johnes slid from behind and blocked Wong’s shot with his feet in the 60th minute to deny Uni’s best scoring chance of the matchup to that point.

“I thought I had the guy beat, so I was just looking at the goalie,” Wong said. “I didn’t see him come up from behind me. Looking back, I should have cut back or went a little faster. It was my mistake but a great through ball.”

Senior midfielder George Voulgaris scored Uni’s only goal on a penalty kick with 3.9 seconds left in the match to avoid Uni’s second shutout of the season. Urbana beat the Illineks 4-0 on Sept. 29 in Uni’s only shutout loss of the season.

“I didn’t want to give up,” Voulgaris said. “It’s nice to know we at least got a goal in, but I don’t think the score defined who we are as a team. We got unlucky.”

Uni trailed 1-0 at halftime, and Voulgaris nearly tied the match within the first 15 minutes of the second half. Voulgaris’ header off a corner kick by junior midfielder Randall Hornbaker — the Illineks’ first corner kick of the match — went just high over the crossbar tokeep Marquette’s lead at 1-0 with 28:50 left.

Two minutes later, Uni senior midfielder Paul Seeley’s shot from 10 yards out on the left side went wide right, another tantalizingly close opportunity that generated a collective groan from the Uni fans and kept Marquette’s 1-0 lead intact.

“Tarik played the free kick in, and Patrick bodied off the defender,” Seeley said. “It came to me. I tried to power it, and I probably should have just placed it. We had plenty of chances. We just couldn’t convert. It’s frustrating, but that’s how soccer is. Sometimes your shots go in; sometimes they go wide.”

Voulgaris had another quality chance with Uni trailing 2-0 and less than 11 minutes left in the second half. Hornbaker’s cross found Voulgaris near the net, where he was able to put his head on the ball, but Marquette senior goalie Zach Horn made the save right near the goal line.

“I tried to get it in the back of the net,” Voulgaris said. “The keeper made some outstanding saves, and it didn’t go in. We got ourselves behind their line enough to create chances to score.”

Johnes prevented another Uni goal from happening when he volleyed freshman midfielder Panos Voulgaris’ shot away from the net with less than three minutes left and Marquette leading 3-0.

“We had plenty of opportunities,” Anders said. “Their keeper made some very nice, point-blank range saves. In the end, I had to go for it, so I think the score got stretched out from what the game actually was.”

Marquette junior forward Steven Peuterbaugh connected for two second-half goals to lead the Explorers (20-6-1) to their first state title.

Junior forward Matt Hampton and sophomore defender Caleb McClintock also added goals for Marquette, which outshot Uni 11-7.

“They were a little stronger than we are physically, but we play a very smart game,” Anders said. “We’ve got a lot of creative individuals who can make things happen, and we did that. It’s just that things didn’t fall in our favor.”

Hampton had the only goal in the first half. His left-footed free kick on the right side from 22 yards out eluded the reach of Uni junior goalie Tristan Gurtler and into the upper left portion of the net.

Hampton’s score came with 36:08 still left to play before halftime.

“I think them getting a goal very early like that hurt,” Anders said. “We lost a little composure in the first half.”

Uni had two solid chances to score in the first half. Koric unleashed a shot from about 25 yards out that hit Horn directly in the chest as the Explorers’ keeper made the save with 12:20 remaining. Panos Voulgaris’ shot from 30 yards out a minute later just went over the crossbar, foreshadowing the team’s misfortune that was to come in the second half.

“It was a great accomplishment (to place second), but the taste of defeat will always linger down the road,” Wong said. “I’m sure we’ll regret the shots we missed and the goals we could have had. It’s been an amazing run here. I just wish we could have pulled out a win.”

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