St. Charles East wasn't super enthusiastic when it learned that rival St. Charles North would be coming to Norris Stadium for a Class 3A regional semifinal on Wednesday night.
After a scoreless first half, Saints coach Paul Jennison's message to his lads was clear, "put the ball away. The longer we let them hang around, the better their chances are and in a rivalry game at this point in the season we need to distance ourselves."
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Similar to the Saints' 1-0 victory at St. Charles North on Oct. 12, they once again controlled possession but didn't seal the contest until there was 1:08 remaining and Jordan Moore scored an insurance goal on a beautiful cross from Tyler Robbins for a 2-0 victory.
"When the draw comes out you're thinking, 'Don't give us a rival on the first game,' and we saw that draw and knew that the first one is the toughest," Jennison said. "You can't expect it to be your best game of the season and today we just got the job done and took care of business."
Junior Zach Manibog scored what proved to be the game-winner with 33:40 left in the second half when he connected with a ball that Jacob Sterling attempted to cross, but which ultimately went to Manibog.
"Sterling's cross just came out and it looked like a perfect roll," Manibog said. "I just tried for the first touch and got lucky and it went in."
St. Charles North (3-13-3) was able to keep the game close thanks in part to the strong play of Billy Larsen in net, who delivered several key saves to allow the North Stars to remain a big play away from tallying the equalizer.
"He's a great keeper and we were fortunate to finally get one past him," Manibog said. "It was a really important goal. It got the pressure off of us and we started rolling after that."
When the teams previously met, the North Stars were unable to threaten offensively. On Wednesday, they created some opportunities, including their best threat of the night on a Chris Watson free kick with 9:08 remaining.
"We thought that his pace up front could give them some problems and it held true," North Stars coach Eric Willson said. "I think that he got in behind and got a pretty good look. I thought we had a couple good opportunities in the second half to equalize the game."
While St. Charles East (18-1-4) has 15 more wins and 12 less losses than the North Stars, it just goes to show you how difficult it is to win during the postseason. It also says a lot about a St. Charles North team that's far better than its record.
"Eric always has his teams ready for the game and they were fired up and had a game plan and showed they're better than their record suggests," Jennison said. "Today we just had two great strikes and that was the difference. On a different day, we might be talking differently."
While the North Stars had few victories to celebrate this season and ending with a loss is always tough for seniors, the consolation is that they finished with another strong effort.
"I can't say enough about a team with a record like we do, because it would be easy to go in the other direction and shut down," Willson said. "I'm proud that these guys didn't do this. They fought real hard and that's important."