When Buffalo Grove was sailing along at 7-0-0 back in early September, lowly Fremd was dreading water at 0-6-2.
Fast-forward nearly six weeks later.
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The Vikings are on a 10-2-1 run, in top postseason form and suddenly a most dangerous No. 7 in the Conant sectional semifinals.
On Saturday afternoon, the Vikings allowed a first-half goal to the No. 2 seed Bison (13-7-0), then parlayed goals from Zach Schoffstall and John Smith 10 minutes apart to knock off the Mid-Suburban East champs 2-1.
Fremd earned a the regional championship at Mundelein and advances into Tuesday's Conant sectional, where it will meet No. 3 seed Stevenson at 7 p.m.
"I just love this time of the year," said Fremd captain Jeremy Kosacz moments after he and his mates withstood a furious battle from a proud Bison side to win its second consecutive regional crown. "We were really up against it in that first half, and they have so many offensive weapons -- especially Irving (Eloiza) -- and when they went up on us in that first half, it kind of put us on our heels."
Fremd (10-8-3) was stretched in the opening quarter-hour thanks to Eloiza, the MSL East player of the year and an all-state midfielder, and standout running mate Alberto Eloyza. They had plenty of touches, getting others involved and keeping Fremd defending more than it would have liked.
Bison coach Rick Carlson opened with a little different look along the back, pulling one of his top attackers, Zach Masciopinto, to partner with Alexix Herrera, Daniel Ramirez and Allan Santiaguillo. The move helped keep things more secure in front of keeper Dillon Eaton, who and a rather easy time of it in the first half.
"They came with a lot of pace and energy, and we didn't answer well," said Fremd coach Steve Keller, "So they stayed in our end far too much in that first half."
After the strong start from the Bison, the Vikings finally responded, causing all sorts of bother for Eaton, who was forced into a pair of stops at 15 minutes to help keep the game scoreless to that point.
Just before Eric Scott jumped in to tackle Rafa Arcos in close after the senior was freed by Irving Balboa, the Bison finally were able to get into the back of the net when Balboa once again sliced through the Vikings area and finished a diagonal ball from Eloiza.
"Getting that first goal was so important, because we all knew how tough (Fremd) is when they're on top, and how well they manage a lead," said Eloiza.
With the wind at their back, and just 40 minutes the difference between staying alive or watching their season end abruptly, the Vikings were on the front foot immediately in the opening exchanges of the second period.
Zach Schoffstall had a go at the near post, and in tight quarters, Nate Hellwarth whipped a marvelous ball that forced Eaton to save at 53 minutes.
The Bison bench pleaded for something from the center official when they thought Eloiza was brought down in the box in the 57th minute, but in this box-to-box, fast-paced second half, the officials allowed plenty of contact.
"We opened with a 3-4-2, but man-marked Eloiza, and after he had a very good first half, I thought we really limited him in the second half, which helped us control the run of play," said Kosacz.
From his spot on the right flank, Schoffstall brought the match even on a 14-yard floor-burner assisted by Lucas Cholewa.
The Vikings were quickly back at it in hopes of going ahead. But within 30 seconds of the Vikings goal, Balboa saw his looping shot pulled out of the air by keeper Steven Soltykiewicz.
Just minutes later, Eaton needed to be helped off the pitch after a collision on a 50-50 ball with Jon Magnusson left the junior a little dazed.
Anthony Pawlicki entered the game for his fallen teammate, and it took no less than 60 seconds for the Vikings to take the lead for good. John Smith ran onto a ball along the right side and curled a left-footer around and through a maze of players before the ball nestled just inside the far post.
"He just got that shot or pass inside the post, and that was a really tough one to give up," said BG coach Rick Carlson. "We knew what to expect today, and I thought we had a great start to get the lead we wanted, but we took a little step back when Alberto (Eloyza) went out for 15-20 minutes, and you saw just how important he is to this team because it allowed Fremd to stay close in that first half when we had the run of play and a chance to add to our lead."
After the Smith go-ahead goal, the match turned into a tactical chess match, with the Vikings going with just one up top, while dropping numbers back into the middle to force the Bison to go wide.
Carlson countered with three along the back, and added another striker alongside Demo Drakoulis, who drove his close-range shot over the net in the 72nd minute.
Scott sent another dangerous ball out of the area after Aldo Figueroa and Eloiza conjured up the trouble, but that was about it for the Bison.
"You've got to credit Buffalo Grove for the number of lapses they forced us into during that first half, but with that said, we still were able to keep it to a 1-goal advantage at the half, then go out and get a very nice goal from Zach before going ahead for good," said Keller.
"I told my teammates that it was important to get that second goal to finish them off," said Eloiza. "But when we didn't, and there was a little bit of a let-up on our part, Fremd took advantage and did what they had to do to get the win."
Evanston 4, Maine West 0: The Warriors bowed out of New Trier sectional play with a shutout loss in the regional championship round at Niles North.
St. Viator 1, Deerfield 0: Troy Wheeler produced a strike with 15:40 left in regulation to propel the Lions at Vernon Hills in regional championship play.
St. Viator advance into the Grayslake sectional semifinal round against Lakes, which defeated Johnsburg 3-0 on Saturday.
The Lions and Eagles meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Grayslake Central, following the first semifinal featuring Grayslake North and Harvard.