With a number of boys soccer heavy hitters falling by the wayside, No. 4 sectional seed Hersey (14-3-3) had to fight for its soccer life for over 80 minutes Wednesday before finally putting away Highland Park.
The Huskies outlasted the Giants 3-1 in overtime to earn a spot in the Class 3A regional final against Lake Forest (13-6-1) Saturday afternoon.
All-state forward John Cappuccitti helped the Huskies storm to the lead with his go-ahead goal at 85 minutes, then later put the icing on the cake with the final goal against Highland Park (8-9-5).
"These regional openers are the hardest of all, and we made it even harder with a lackluster first period and a not-so-good second half until we finally woke up and played the way we always do and got out of here still alive," said Hersey coach Darren Llewellyn.
"We've had trouble all year with teams that play the same style -- Wheeling, Morton, Elk Grove and today Highland Park," continued Llewellyn. "All of them are highly skilled and like to knock the ball around, and we basically allowed them to do just that. And to make matters worse, they won nearly every first and second ball in that first half, which is something we always do."
"We were awful," Cappuccitti said. "I don't know what are problem was today. Maybe we saw St. Viator and Warren lose yesterday, both high seeds and we obviously didn't want that to happen to us in this game. But we played so careful, and without much energy or urgency, and Highland Park really put us on our heels in that first half."
Senior Jorge Castro got the Huskies the lead at 25 minutes. His low drive was initially stopped by HP keeper Carlos Pineda, but a Giants defender somehow knocked the ball out of gloves of the junior and into the back of the net.
Within a space of two minutes, the Giants revved up their attack, and with the help of Tony Barrios, the No. 13 seed looked and played more like the higher seed.
Just after the break, Highland Park drew even with Omar Rodriguez finishing his close-range shot after the Huskies failed to clear a Barrios corner.
Frustrated by the lack of success of his offense, Llewellyn moved defensive midfielder Connor Reynolds up top and alongside Cappuccitti while inserting Tim Griffin at midfield. And for the final minutes of regulation, the Huskies' attack grew sharper.
Cappuccitti made it 2-1 when a nice ball from Charlie Davenport found Reynolds, whose quick touch pulled the Highland Park defense out of shape. That allowed Cappuccitti to finish with a cool, calculated touch.
A superb early ball from Michael Kaczor gave Cappuccitti another chance, and he converted at 99 minutes.
"We did everything but score in the first half, and we had a lot of the play in the second," said Highland Park coach Blake Novotny. "But we may have lost our legs late in the second half, which carried over into overtime. And we had some trouble after that."
• Rolling Meadows' strong finish continued Wednesday with a 3-1 victory over Schaumburg at St. Charles East in regional semifinal play. Kou Glaser had a pair of goals as Meadows scored twice in the first half. The Mustangs will the host Saints for the regional championship; St. Charles East defeated St. Charles North 2-0.