Dreams of returning to the Class 2A boys soccer state championship game came to an end Friday afternoon in Frankfort for St. Viator, which fell 2-1 to Urbana in semifinal action.
The Lions (20-4-3) will meet Wheaton Academy, which lost 2-1 in a shootout to Peoria Notre Dame, in today's 11 a.m. third-place contest.
"We had a great start today, then fell off, but came at them later, just pounding away at them," said St. Viator coach Mike Taylor. "But as I told the boys afterward, you've got to put the ball in the back of the net in order to go forward, and today we just didn't."
St. Viator started well against the Tigers (21-2-0), who appeared to have a good case of nerves as they took the state semifinal stage for the first time. Urbana seemed troubled by the pace and energy shown by the Lions' Spencer Moore and Jackson Owens in the early stages.
But after its high-octane start, the Lions attack suffered a power outage, which allowed coach Randy Blackman's squad to slowly get back into the game.
Moore and Owens created four deep throws for specialist Ethan Wolf to toss, but the last of them was the only one the Lions got on goal, with defender Troy Wheeler putting a shot over the bar at 14 minutes.
But that was about it for the rest of the half for the Lions, who struggled with possession and ability to link up the midfield to the forwards.
In the meantime, with the tenacious Miguel Fierro dominating the midfield exchanges, Urbana started to win back the run of play.
The first chance of an error-strewn opening half arrived just past the quarter hour when the Tigers' David Anderson made something out of nothing after teammate Fierro floated a wonderfully paced crossfield ball. Anderson, a sophomore, used a nifty one-time touch to beat Lions keeper Michael McGrath at the back post.
"(St. Viator) put us under pressure right from the start, but fortunately we weathered the storm," said Blackman, who has reached the final for the first time in his 27 years at Urbana. "But that first goal really helped us settle down, and from thereafter we just did what we had to do in order to get this result."
Their confidence now growing after taking the lead, the Tigers stepped up their attack. Anderson delivered two quality balls through to pry open the Lions' defense. Jonathan Lukasa took the end line on one of them before firing a low drive at the near post, which McGrath saved.
The Lions had a chance to get level just before the break, but the assistant referee ruled Owens to be off-sides after the senior collected a pass from Moore.
After a rousing start to the second half from the Lions, it was another setback for Viator as senior Ashwin Cornelius left with an apparent knee injury.
McGrath stopped Gesi Muharremi just after Cornelius was helped off.
Taylor adjusted to the loss of one of his captains by moving Moore back into the middle to revive the Lions' attack alongside Kevin Klinkenberg, and by bringing on 10-goal scorer Nick Winter to team with Owens. But minutes after the switch, the Tigers added to their lead with Lukasa scoring at the near post with his 21st goal of the season.
"We made a couple of mistakes, and (Urbana) took advantage on its best two chances to score," said Taylor.
The 65th-minute goal from Lukusa was the last time the Tigers were in the St. Viator end.
Wheeler, who had the four best looks on frame on the day for his club (all from set pieces), watched his 22-yard free kick cleared off the line by Lukusa. Blackman had moved the 6-foot-1 striker back only seconds before Wheeler unloaded his attempt.
Moments later, Tigers keeper Brian Summers stopped Wheeler at point-blank range. Finally, the Lions star defender scored a consolation goal one minute from time.
"Too little, too late," said Taylor. "If we came to play like we did for 80 minutes on Tuesday in our supersectional with East Moline, we're (through) and into the final tomorrow.
"It's disappointing we didn't get there, but credit Urbana (also) for what they were able to do when they had their chances."