It would be an understatement to say that this might be the biggest week of the regular season for Hersey.
With a date at Mid-Suburban League East co-leader Buffalo Grove set for this Friday, matches with Rolling Meadows and Fremd took on added importance. Winning them means the Huskies could force the upcoming contest with the Bison will decide which club represents the division in the MSL Cup next month.
Nikola Vukovic did his part to keep the Huskies' alive in the race when the senior scored a dramatic late game-winner to earn the hosts 3 vital points in a 1-0 victory over Rolling Meadows on Tuesday.
The shutout helps the Huskies (8-7-0, 5-2-0, 15 points) stay even with the Bison, who defeated Schaumburg 2-1.
"Yeah this was a big game for us -- it was a big game for Rolling Meadows also," said Hersey coach Darren Llewellyn, who knew coming in a loss or even a draw could be devastating, while a victory for the visiting Mustangs (2-4-2, 2-5-2) would have kept them close to the leaders. "We couldn't come out of here today with anything less than 3 points. As it has gone for most of the year, we continue to struggle at times but still find a way to win in what has been an interesting season in the MSL thus far."
The Mustangs' made the more impressive start, exploiting the Huskies' notorious defensive stance as Mike D'Acquisto, David Zarate, Liam Brady and Noe Zarate surged forward with some nice possession and quick touches to help put Hersey under plenty of pressure.
Sophomore Campbell White took one off the line when he blocked a close-range shot from the Mustangs.
Later, on a well-played build-up from D'Acquisto on the outside, and played through Arthur Giedrojc, then David Zarate, the visitors created more trouble for the hosts.
But they were unable to get anything of quality on frame or at Hersey keeper Irving Velasquez.
"We did a lot of good things from 25 yards out, but we didn't really test their keeper from in close, or even take it in on him or their defense," said Rolling Meadows coach Peter Mikulak. "Hersey is always so organized in the back, but we could have done things a little better to take advantage of the things we were doing so well, especially in the first half."
Hersey, too, looked uncertain in its own attack whenever it broke into the Mustangs' end.
While it owned the run of play for the first 10-15 minutes of play after intermission, the Huskies were also unable to challenge Alejandro Camarillo until the 54th minute, when the senior stopped Dan Gramer.
Velazquez was forced to extend far to his right to save a low drive from David Zarate at 66 minutes in what would be the Mustangs' best chance to break the goal-less match -- a match which looked destined to go into OT -- even with both sides throwing extra numbers forward.
"It sure looked like we were going to overtime, but we all knew we couldn't afford a loss or tie," said the soon-to-be hero Vukovic, who struck the football crossbar with his 20-yard cracker after Charlie Davenport and John Cappuccitti helped produce the opportunity for their teammate.
Two minutes before time expired, Vukovic delivered.
After a long throw from Jonothon Dickey was kept alive in the box by Davenport, Vukovic outworked a defender to pry the ball free, then got around a diving Camarillo before going into the back of the net with just a hint of a touch on his shot.
"It looked like to me that Charlie was able to (flick) the throw toward me before I took the ball down and beat my man, then the keeper," said Vukovic. "This was a huge win for us, and one that we really needed, especially with Fremd up next, then BG on Friday."