BLOOMINGTON — It was hard to imagine how Nick Clegg’s athletes could feel any colder.
Champaign Central boys’ soccer on Tuesday was experiencing the final moments of what Clegg described as “not the type of deja vu you want.”
The Maroons were watching the second-most successful season in program history come to a heartbreaking end, via a 2-1 loss to Springfield in the Class 2A Bloomington Sectional semifinals.
A loss cemented by a goal recorded with less than one minute left on the clock.
And then it started to snow.
It was one last unusual mark on a day filled with them for Central (19-5-3), which arrived at Bloomington’s field later than its match was scheduled to start after the team bus was involved in a traffic accident in Champaign.
“When we were pulling out, just some kind of collision,” Clegg said. “We had to sit there until the cops came because I guess we’re all witnesses. ... And (then we) got a different bus. We got the unlucky bus.”
Easy to see why Clegg felt that way after his Maroons went through a very similar script to the one that played out in 2018’s 2A sectional final versus these same Senators (17-4-3).
Central peppered Springfield goalkeeper Collin Taylor with so many first-half shots — eight in all — that it appeared the Senators were the ones who’d shown up late.
“They dominated us in the first half. Pure domination by their part,” Springfield leader Patrick Phillips said. “And we find a goal to go up 1-0.”
That occurred with just 3 minutes, 44 seconds left before halftime.
A loose ball soared toward Maroons goalie Nate Allen and wasn’t traveling quickly enough to make for an easy choice.
Allen opted to leave the crease, but Senator Carter Formea got the first touch and blooped it over Allen and into the twine.
“(The mindset was) the nerves should be over and we’re lucky to be up 1-0,” Phillips said, “and let’s play.”
A much more even second frame followed, with Central not recording a shot on net until there were 25 minutes gone in the stanza.
That didn’t stop defending News-Gazette Player of the Year Santiago Rodriguez from trying desperately to make things happen.
He pick-pocketed a Senators defender at one stage, rushed about 40 yards the opposite direction and sent a cross right into the box. It found no feet.
When Rodriguez was slowed by Alfred Hoffman, who man-marked the potent former Maroon Pablo Diaz this time last year, guys like Todd Marshall, Judd Wagner and Tim Ngugi carried the workload.
It ultimately was Rodriguez working into a crowded box and finding Wagner that finally tied the tilt at 1, with 13:19 left in regulation.
“(Rodriguez) was definitely scouted out by the other team,” Clegg said. “He could’ve had two to three assists. We just didn’t finish the ball when he set it up.”
It seemed overtime was inevitable — before the deja vu struck.
Ben Huston hit a streaking Wolf Brethorst down the sideline. Allen again charged out of the cage, but Brethorst maneuvered around him and deposited the clinching goal with 42.3 seconds showing.
It was Brethorst who converted the decisive marker with 1:54 left in last year’s sectional championship event.
And the only reason he was in the same position Tuesday was because Phillips shifted Brethorst from the middle to a wing after the senior limped off with an injury minutes earlier.
“Somehow we had a good through ball and the same kind of run — almost mirror image as last year,” Phillips said, “and we’re lucky to advance.”
Central wasn’t feeling any sort of luck as its kids departed Bloomington, the snow quickly turning to a chilly rain.
That was true even with some impressive statistics in the Maroons’ back pocket.
“Twenty-one wins (last year) and then 19 wins: Those are our first- and second-most wins in school history that our senior class is leaving behind,” Clegg said. “First class to win back-to-back regional titles at Central. They’re going to be missed.”
Bulldogs also fall short. Before Champaign Central wrote its final chapter of the 2019 boys’ soccer season, Mahomet-Seymour had its own gut-wrenching moment play out.
Morton’s Mustafa Bakirdan finished off a free kick from teammate Wesley Gibson with 5 minutes, 37 seconds to play in the first Class 2A Bloomington Sectional semifinal, sending the Potters past the Bulldogs 3-2.
“We were pretty close again (Tuesday). I think we’ve played a lot of the good teams all year pretty close,” M-S coach Jeremy Davis said. “Hard not to be a little disappointed.”
Both sides held an advantage on the scoreboard in this contest despite Morton (23-2-1) outshooting the Bulldogs (17-5-4) by a 14-6 margin.
And it was the Potters who jumped ahead early, as Braden Damotte set up Blake Gibson for a tally about 12 minutes in. This came not long after Morton attempted four corner kicks in a span of three minutes.
Then the momentum shifted in a big way when M-S tried a pair of corners halfway through the opening period.
The second resulted in Morton goalkeeper Connor Loudermilk going down with an injury, allowing Kadyn Jones to boot the ball into an empty cage for a 1-all tie.
Loudermilk left the game and eventually was transported from the facility via ambulance.
“There’s no timeouts in soccer,” Potters boss Tory DeLong said. “I definitely think it was shocking for us to have our goalie go down like that.”
The Bulldogs weren’t about to lighten up their play despite the unfortunate event. In fact, they settled down significantly for the rest of the half and began to pressure Morton freshman backup netminder Sox Short.
That paid off when Jones laced a free kick off the near post and Colten Brunner headed home the rebound for a 2-1 M-S edge with 3:35 left before the break.
“(Short) was left hanging on the goal he gave up,” DeLong said. “Unfortunately our defense allowed two, maybe three or four rebounders to go right through there.”
But the good times didn’t last for the Bulldogs, as Morton’s Adam Pollard tied things at 2 less than five minutes into a fresh clock.
On top of that, the Potters made a key defensive adjustment.
“Xavier Schmidt was doing a really good job out wide (at fullback), gave us some options there overloading, giving us numbers there on one side,” Davis said. “They took that a little bit away, played us to the other side that last half. It wasn’t as much of an option.”
Meanwhile, M-S sophomore keeper Keagon Ashby soaked up a bevy of bids by various Morton attackers. He just couldn’t get the last one, which arrived mere moments after Short leaped to save a Brunner shot attempt that then briefly rode the crossbar before falling harmlessly back to Short.
“They hustled very well, and they’re skilled,” DeLong said of the Bulldogs. “I came into this game thinking they would pack it in a little bit ... defensively.”
M-S’s program was full of surprises this season. Just ask Davis.
“I thought it’d be a down year for us,” he said, “so to have our most wins we’ve ever had, I think, says something.”