A Quentin Low-inspired Stevenson team advanced to the Class 3A Conant boys soccer sectional final with a thrilling 1-0 win over Fremd late Tuesday night in sectional semifinal play in Hoffman Estates.
The victory sets up an all-North Suburban Conference final Friday against rival Libertyville, which earlier in the evening defeated Prospect 2-1.
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Low, Stevenson's goalkeeper, and his backline mates held firm after the Vikings (10-9-3) started the second half on the front foot. Fremd never let up, but a 66th-minute goal from Michael Weinstein left the outcome in favor or Stevenson (17-3-1).
"Quentin, Justin (Johnson), Alex (Smith), Ross (Comitor) Michael (Dobin) -- defense, defense and more defense was the difference tonight," said Patriots coach Mark Schartner.
"I told you at the break that so far, this game had gone pretty much the way I thought it would -- much like the previous five before this one, which all ended with a 1-0 result. And that's exactly how it would end tonight as well."
Low, with 15 shutouts this season, has recorded six straight clean sheets.
"They have a terrific keeper, who kept them in the game with a couple of goal-saving stops, and although they keep so many players behind the ball, they can get numbers forward in a hurry, with speed," said Fremd coach Steve Keller.
Schartner said beforehand his team was made up of a bunch of midfielders with a strong group in the back and lacked only a stone-cold finisher. The Pats coach saw his club control the middle of the park for most of the first half while keeping the Vikes' top player, senior Jeremy Kosacz, under a careful eye.
"We knew that would be the key tonight, and for the most part, at least in the first half, we did a pretty good job on No. 10 (Kosacz)," said Schartner.
Dobin shot over the woodwork at 23 minutes after a helper from Jared Moelaart put the junior in position to beat Vikings keeper Steven Soltykiewicz. But the Fremd senior was magnificent just before the break, when he went from the ground into the air in a flash and stayed airborn in full extension to pull a sure goal away to preserve a scoreless first half.
"It was the tale of two halves," said Fremd coach Steve Keller. "They owned the first, us the second. We created some very good opportunities and didn't put one in. The break would come for them when they put their one good chance into the back of the net. And as we've all seen, that's how the game of soccer goes sometime."
Kosacz, Michael Eschbach, Zach Schoffstall and Lucas Cholewa were a blur as the Vikings' attack revved up after the break.
Cholewa played a nice ball back to Kosacz, who teed up a 16-yard blast which Low turned up and over the bar. Then it was an alert Moelaart who cleared an inward swinging corner from Eschbach off the line to save the Patriots in the 61st minute.
"They really came at us in that second half, but this team takes a lot of pride in defending, so we were prepared to do whatever it took to keep them out of the back of our net," said Weinstein.
Weinstein, one of 13 seniors on the Patriots' roster, gave his side a 1-goal advantage when Ryan Puszka whipped a wonderful ball through on the left side to Weinstein, who never stopped running on his back-post gallop.
"It all really happened so fast, but Joe (Hugener) got things started, and (Ryan) gave me a great ball and I was able to get in (on) their keeper and put it past him," said Weinstein.
The Vikings pushed forward as it searched for the equalizer, while the Patriots dropped 10 behind the ball to help weather the expected offensive storm.
Low pushed an 18-yard missile from Nate Hellwarth aside in the 74th minute, and the Vikings sent countless balls into the box and generated a handful of deep throws. But the Patriots stayed organized and sharp in the final minutes of regulation.
"They remind me a lot of Palatine with their high work rate, and they are fit," said Keller. "Although we gave it everything we could, it just wasn't enough."
"It was a good win against a very good team," said Schartner, "and so now, we get a rematch with Libertyville, a team that we were up on and conceded a late goal for a 1-1 draw. It should be a good final here on Friday."