'Tough' loss for state runner-up Tigers

FRANKFORT — The Urbana boys’ soccer team was guaranteed to come home with a state trophy this weekend.

It just wasn’t the one the Tigers and their faithful were hoping for.

Peoria Notre Dame scored early, then added two more goals late to claim a 3-0 victory in the Class 2A state championship and deny Urbana its first state championship.

The Tigers’ second-place finish is the best in school history, but the defeat — Urbana’s first since a 2-0 loss against Springfield on Oct. 6 — still stung.

“When you get to the finals and don’t win, it’s tough,” Urbana coach Randy Blackman said. “I feel for the kids, but I’m extremely proud of them. They fought hard. We had a couple good scoring opportunities that we just let go by. Maybe a different day, we get those finishes.”

Peoria Notre Dame (22-2-2) took a 1-0 lead in the first half, and the score remained that way until the final 10 minutes. Irish senior forward Grant Inskeep scored with 9:39 remaining in the match to extend Urbana’s deficit to 2-0. Urbana senior keeper Brian Summers couldn’t make the initial save after a cross by senior forward Drew Whalen, and Inskeep pounced on the rebound, scoring from 5 yards.

Peoria Notre Dame added another goal 46 seconds later to go up 3-0. A cross from senior midfielder Alex Garcia near the end line found its way through the box, where Inskeep was waiting to put it into the empty net.

“I know we played with them the whole time,” Urbana senior defender Joseph Lund said. “That first goal really wasn’t their cleanest goal. I think we played them well. They deserved it, but I’m really proud of how we played.”

Trailing 1-0 and with less than 20 minutes to play, Urbana senior forward Jonathan Lukusa showcased some of his skill with a breathtaking play that nearly tied the match. With two Irish defenders on him, Lukusa turned and, while falling backward, unleashed a left-footed shot from 20 yards that just sailed high over the crossbar and past Buck’s arms.

“I thought it was more of a lofted shot, rather than a driven shot,” Peoria Notre Dame coach Mike Bare said. “It was one of those where our goalkeeper was in position to make the play, and if he needs to, I think he tips it over the bar.”

Lukusa’s shot was Urbana’s first significant attempt on goal in the second half against an Irish defense that played aggressive the whole match.

“We were pretty confident, and we just kept on playing hard,” Urbana midfielder Miguel Fierro said. “They were the better team (on Saturday).”

Wherever Lukusa — who came into the match with 21 goals, tied for the team lead with Fierro — would go, the Irish made sure they had multiple defenders nearby.

Lukusa had Urbana’s only shot on goal in the first half. His left-footed shot from 12 yards with 10 minutes left in the first half found its way into Buck’s hands.

“We just constantly made sure our kids were aware of where he was at all times,” Bare said. “He’s so dangerous. Everything kind of went through him. We thought he’d be a fast, physical guy that they’d loft him (passes) in behind, but I’m impressed with the kid on the ball, too. He’s good at taking players on, creating service in the box and setting up his teammates.”

Urbana (21-3) had another solid chance in the first half with just under 15 minutes left before intermission. Lukusa sent a pass to junior midfielder Saul Downie, who played a ball to the left side for sophomore midfielder David Anderson.

Anderson — who scored Urbana’s first goal in Friday’s state semifinal win against Arlington Heights St. Viator — couldn’t make good on this opportunity. His shot from 10 yards hit the side of the net with 14:22 left in the first half.

“It was unfortunate David didn’t get a good hit on it,” Blackman said. “He’s such a great player. I know he’s disappointed, but I’m not disappointed in him. Those things happen. Nine times out of 10, he’ll put it in. He’s just that kind of player.”

The Tigers fell behind 1-0 only 15 minutes into the match. A cross by the Irish was not cleared by the Tigers, with the ball scurrying free onto the right foot of Peoria Notre Dame senior forward Danny Aeschliman.

Aeschliman, unmarked on the right side 10 yards from the goal, blasted a shot into the near right side of the net and past Summers to give the Tigers an early deficit.

Peoria Notre Dame nearly went ahead in the first minute of the match. A foul on the Tigers resulted in a free kick from 35 yards that found the head of Peoria Notre Dame senior forward Drew Whalen, but Whalen’s flick from 5 yards whisked off the crossbar, keeping the match scoreless.

“I think we were a little nervous, but I think after about seven minutes in, we finally calmed down,” Blackman said. “With the exception of one game in the playoffs, we pretty much started every game sluggish. Hopefully we learn not to do that in the future.”

A future that won’t include several contributors on Urbana’s postseason run, but a run that the Tigers will most likely never forget.

“Going through it, it just meant everything,” Lund said. “No matter how it finished, in hindsight, it’s the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.

What’s done is done, and I’m just happy I played with these guys.”

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