Is Hersey a team of destiny this fall?
Too early to tell, perhaps, but fate certainly has been a friend so far.
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In their last six matches, the Huskies (11-3-2, 7-2-0-21 points) have won five times by 1 goal, including Saturday against Conant as Hersey won in the closing moments of regulation on a most fortunate redirected shot.
Alex Mueller had no intention of heading the game-winner when he was knocked down inside the 6-yard box for a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
Coach Darren Llewellyn's club remains 2 points clear of Mid-Suburban East rivals Elk Grove and Wheeling heading into the final week of the regular season.
"I fully expected to be playing overtime," said Llewellyn, whose bench was hit hard with injuries.
Top defensive midfielder Conor Reynolds was sidelined in the opening moments. Tim Griffin, Alex Filian, George Boyle and Dan Gramer all were out with injuries as well. Gramer had suffered his injury during the Huskies' 4-3 overtime loss to Wheeling on Thursday.
"It wasn't much of a game in the first half," Llewellyn said. "Both teams were pretty lethargic coming off homecoming, but it opened up some after we put the first one in. And Jason's (Franco, Conant's coach) guys really came at us. They made us work for just about everything in that second half."
"This is kind of the story of our season," said Franco, whose team is 5-8-3 with 3-4-1 in the MSL for 10 points. "We play the top clubs in the MSL real tough but fall short, except for us beating Barrington (1-0) and getting overwhelmed after being even with Wheeling (1-1) until they blew the game open.
"We've had trouble scoring all season long, but we got back into this one. We drew even -- then that late goal did us in."
The best chance of the first half fell to Hersey's John Cappuccitti, who saw Conant keeper Patryk Openchowski had ventured far off his line. Cappuccitti quickly cracked a return shot over the head of the lanky senior, only to see his volley go inches wide of the open goal.
Michael Kaczor, who scored 3 goals in the loss to Wheeling, put the Huskies ahead when he strolled to the back post to drive in the first goal of the match at 48 minutes.
"I know (Cappuccitti) can put the ball right to me, and like he did twice against Wheeling, he found me at the back post for an easy goal," said Kaczor, whose been a key figure in the Huskies' season since returning from club soccer.
The goal energized the Huskies, opening up their play and adding a little urgency to the Cougars' game as well.
"We finally woke up after they went ahead," said junior Chase Hermanson, who cracked a whirling half-volley off a superb free kick from Branden Dos Santos past keeper Cristian Carranza to tie the match in the 63rd minute.
The equalizer upped the ante for both clubs, with each side adding more quality to its attack.
Griffin got in on Openchowski but lost out in a 50-50 challenge and was helped off after suffering an ankle injury at 66 minutes.
Hersey senior Jorge Castro went over the bar two minutes later. Soon after, Ejike Okpa was turned away by Carranza after he was put through by Dino Kandalepas.
Cappuccitti's free kick drive from just inside the midline roared into the Cougars' box.
Seconds later, a stunned Conant backline and its keeper dug the ball out of the net just two minutes from time.
"Mueller told me he was knocked down near the 6-yard-line and when he was going (down) the ball went off the side of his head and into the back of the net," Llewellyn saiud. "Kind of crazy, huh?"
"That last 10 to 12 minutes we had more jump in our game," Franoc said. "But we need to sustain that type of play and energy for a lot longer than that to compete."
The Cougars host Elk Grove on Tuesday in an important match for the second-place Grens while Hersey travels to MSL West leader Barrington (14-2-3) that same day.