CHATHAM — James Barkley stood in the center of an Urbana boys’ soccer circle. His athletes wore a series of 1,000-yard stares, some with tears in their eyes.
The Tigers’ coach did what he could to assure his players they’d competed exactly the way they should’ve in Tuesday’s Class 2A Chatham Glenwood Super-Sectional match versus Triad.
He repeatedly mentioned that the ball couldn’t always bounce in Urbana’s favor, despite the Tigers entering the contest without a loss.
None of this eased the pain of a bounce going against the Tigers at the worst possible time.
Urbana and Triad played 100 minutes of scoreless soccer on a cold night before the Knights pushed past the Tigers 3-1 in a penalty-kicks shootout, eliminating Barkley’s bunch one win short of the state semifinals.
“We won a penalty shootout last time, and we lost this one,” said Barkley, referencing last Saturday’s 3-2 shootout success against Normal West in the 2A Bloomington Sectional final.
“We definitely practiced some PKs. This is not an unforeseen situation. Just didn’t bounce our way.”
The Knights (24-0-1) received shootout conversions from junior Jake Stewart, senior Cameron Ramirez and sophomore Gibson Hunt, all after senior Trent Cissell’s opening bid was stopped by Urbana senior keeper Chase Mandra.
The Tigers (19-1-2) garnered a make from senior Noah Barkley. But Triad senior netminder David DuPont came up with saves on seniors Grant Koplinski and Chico Wilson to go with junior William Arana drilling the crossbar on his try.
“That’s why he’s an all-state keeper,” Triad coach Jim Jackson said of DuPont. “We know David’s one of the best in the state … and he showed it (Tuesday).”
Triad outshot Urbana 7-6 for the evening, but the Tigers actually possessed a 6-4 lead in that department when 80 minutes of regulation wrapped up.
Jackson offered nothing but praise for the way Urbana approached facing a Triad squad that had allowed just nine goals in its previous 24 matches.
“They’re a lot faster than I thought on film, to be honest with you, and they were terrific with the ball,” Jackson said. “We kept telling the boys, ‘You don’t know.’ … They were aggressive. No one’s played us like that. That was a good game. That was two of the best teams in the state of Illinois, no matter what the class.”
James Barkley felt his players effectively executed their game plan despite the outcome.
“That is exactly what we wanted to do,” he said. “We were hoping to get them in transition, wear them out a little bit and see what kind of game we could make of it.”
Urbana senior defender Willem Alleyne was able to put aside his emotions in the match’s immediate aftermath in order to assess what he saw from the Tigers on the pitch.
“(Triad) is a phenomenal team. This is probably the game of the year,” Alleyne said. “I think we played well, and we came with a plan. I do think we executed that. It was more about the heart we showed. … To keep that up is what impressed me the most.”
The Knights opened action with more offensive chances, accumulating a shot on goal and two corner kicks in the first 24 minutes.
Once Urbana weathered that storm, however, opportunities evened out and occasionally favored the Tigers.
“When their initial pressing resided a little bit … then we were able to take advantage of those spaces that opened up,” James Barkley said. “They’re full of athletes. There’s athletes across the field, and they’re aggressive on the attack and get back quickly on defense.
“Their shelves are full of great athletes, and so are ours. And you essentially lose on a coin toss in this one.”
Koplinski and Noah Barkley each recorded two shots on goal for Urbana, which added single shots on goal from Arana and junior Deniz Schlieker.
“I have zero regrets,” Alleyne said. “Everybody gave 110 percent. This is some of the best soccer I’ve seen from some of the people on that field.”
Triad sought to prevent a shootout altogether during the first of two 10-minute overtime periods.
Senior Jake Ellis dashed down the sideline in front of stands filled with screaming fans as the clock wound below 10 seconds. He lofted a beautiful cross over Mandra’s head as sophomore Porter Reynolds snuck behind Mandra and rose upward for a header.
And Reynolds connected, sending the ball into the top of the cage. But the lead official immediately waved off the tally. The clock displayed triple zeros, and the Tigers maintained the scoreless draw.
The Knights booked three of their shot attempts in the second overtime while possessing all of the momentum.
Mandra and his cohorts held firm.
“That was a wild play. The same thing happened in ’91, when we won our super-sectional,” said James Barkley, an Urbana alumnus. “The other team, Morton, the ball was in the air when the horn went off at the end of regular time to send it to overtime.
“In the end, we just needed the ball to bounce our way one more time. And it didn’t, unfortunately.”
This season’s Tigers ultimately won’t join the 1991, 2005 and 2012 tandems as state qualifiers.
Perhaps that’s untrue if DuPont guesses wrong during any of his shootout saves.
Or if Mandra is able to corral Stewart’s attempt, which Mandra leaped right to get his hands on but couldn’t prevent from crossing the goal line.
Or if Arana’s rocket shot sneaks just under the bar.
Plenty of what-ifs. A challenging reality for a team featuring 11 seniors.
“It’ll take a little while,” James Barkley said, “but it’s one for the books, for sure.”
Again, Alleyne shared his coach’s sentiment before walking out of the Chatham Glenwood athletic complex and being greeted by a throng of Tigers supporters.
Standing and clapping as each team member hopped on the bus to return home.
“There are a lot of teams that don’t get this chance. There are a lot of teams that don’t get past regionals,” Alleyne said. “There are a lot of teams that don’t get the chance to have fun doing it. … It’s been the best experience of high school.”