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Vikings survive thriller to advance

CELEBRATION: Huntington North celebrates their 2–1 Sectional semifinal victory over Wayne on Wednesday after senior Hunter Hill buried the game-winning goal in a penalty kick shootout.

by Eric Andrews - eandrews@h-ponline.com

As it is said, history repeats itself. For the second consecutive year, the Huntington North boys soccer team outlasted Wayne in penalty kicks by a final score of 2–1 to advance in the Sectional tournament.

Huntington North entered the game seemingly as the underdogs, as Wayne defeated the Vikings 5–0 on Sept. 20. But, after winning an on-paper upset game on Monday, the Vikings entered Wednesday’s contest with confidence they could again pull off a victory to extend their season.

While the first half was fairly even in terms of pressure and possession, Huntington North earned the majority of high-quality scoring chances.

The Vikings recorded the first good scoring chance of the game off a free kick in the 7th minute. The ball was headed toward the net but bounced off the crossbar and over the goal to leave the game scoreless. Junior Peyton Miller also threatened in the 19th minute with a shot from outside the top of the box, but Torren Gonzalez, Wayne’s goalkeeper, turned the shot aside.

Huntington North again nearly opened the scoring in the 24th minute when junior Kyle McGinnis blasted a one-touch shot on goal off a nice crossed ball, but Gonzalez dove to stop the bid.

Despite a high tempo and good opportunities, the first half ended scoreless.

“I think we came in more confident knowing that we wanted to prove something to them,” said head coach Steve Saddington. “The last time we played them we lost 5–0 and we were not feeling satisfied with that. They outplayed us and they won that game fair and square; we just played pretty bad(ly). We felt like we wanted to come out strong; we wanted to come out with purpose and kind of take it to them. We benefited from some of the wind in the first half...we had a couple balls that could have gone in. One hit the crossbar, I think, another was a solid shot that went just a little bit high, and so we were feeling pretty strong(ly) about that.”

However, much like Monday’s game against North Side, the Vikings came out of the gates flat in the second half, while the opposition came out with guns ablazing. Wayne turned up the pressure and dominated the possession game in the second half.

Wayne generated two good scoring chances in the first 10 minutes of the half, but one was stopped by junior goalkeeper Aidan Hosler while the other bounced just over the top right corner of the Huntington North goal.

The Generals continued their push and broke through in the 55th minute following an unforced turnover by sophomore Alex Gass, giving Wayne a 1–0 lead.

The Vikings struggled to regain their footing following the goal, and Wayne nearly doubled their lead in the 70th minute, but Hosler made a game-saving stop off a clear break for the Generals.

Wayne again threatened to grab a 2–0 lead in the 73rd minute, but the Generals’ chip shot sailed just over the Viking net.

Despite being badly outplayed in the half, Huntington North came up with some late-game magic when junior Carter Mertz got his head on a centering chip to put the ball past Gonzalez to tie the game at 1 with 4:08 to play, giving the Vikings new life and eventually sending the game to overtime.

“(We knew) in the second half we were going to play against the wind and (we knew) this was a vertical team that has offensive weapons up top,” Saddington said. “We were wondering if we could just hold on. We wanted to avoid what happened when we got scored on like that because that’s basically how they scored their goals in the first game with us. But we knew we were a better team than what we played them, so we were just hoping for the best. … We were able to get a fortunate goal in the last (few) minutes of the game and that was the difference.”

With two seven-minute overtime halves to determine a winner, a goal would not necessarily promise a victory, as the overtime is played in its entirety as opposed to ending on a golden goal. But, any goals would certainly set up the scoring team for a triumph.

Wayne nearly accomplished that in the 5th minute of the first overtime half, but Hosler robbed the Generals on a point blank opportunity to maintain the 1–1 score. Wayne also missed a couple of chances in the second overtime half, and with the Vikings failing to generate any quality overtime chances, the game headed to a penalty kick shootout.

“(In the) overtime session, we wanted to be smart about it and not be caught too off guard for a counterattack or a through ball that we would be vulnerable to a goal,” Saddington said. “We were playing a little bit conservative(ly), trying to see if we could get some shots if possible, but we just wanted to not do anything foolish that would give up a goal since goals are such a premium.”

With the stage set for the teams’ second penalty kick shootout in as many years in the Sectional tournament, each team sent their best to battle for the victory.

The coin toss determined the Vikings would shoot first in the five-round shootout. Miller served as Huntington North’s first shooter, and Miller blasted his shot past Gonzalez to give the Vikings a 1–0 lead in the shootout. However, the Generals responded with a goal of their own in the bottom half of the round to even the score at 1.

In the second round, junior Tyler Christle’s attempt was saved by Gonzalez and Wayne found the back of the net to claim a 2–1 shootout lead.

In the third round, McGinnis chipped his shot over Gonzalez and just under the crossbar for a goal and Hosler made a nice save, bringing the shootout score to 2–2 after three rounds.

The tide turned in favor of the Vikings in the fourth round, when Gass buried his attempt and the Generals blasted a shot off the crossbar, giving Huntington North a 3–2 lead.

With a chance to end the game, senior Hunter Hill stepped up to the line in the fifth round. A goal would give Huntington North a victory while a miss would then put the pressure on Hosler to make a stop to win the game. Hill did not give the Generals a chance, blasting his shot into the net to give Huntington North a 4–2 lead in the shootout to claim a 2–1 victory.

“Once we got to penalty kicks I felt confident in our goalkeeper and our shooters,” Saddington said. “Once it gets to penalty kicks, to me, the game is essentially over and I don’t put any pressure on my players. If they win it, they win it; if they don’t, they don’t. That’s just the reality of it, so I feel bad for (Wayne). We’ve been in situations like that before. My hat’s off to Wayne because they were a good team.”

With the victory, the Vikings punched a ticket to the Sectional championship game on Oct. 6 against Homestead, who won their Sectional semifinal over South Side on Wednesday by a score of 4–1. The Sectional championship game will be played at Warsaw at 7 p.m.