Antioch moved one step closer to its biggest trip ever with the most important victory in program history Saturday afternoon.
The Sequoits (18-4-3) held off a furious fight from North Suburban Prairie rival Vernon Hills to earn a 2-1 sectional final victory at Grayslake North, putting them just one win away from advancing to the Class 2A state finals.
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"This was a history-making day for Antioch soccer," said coach Marni Polakow, who raced off the touchline to greet and meet her club the moment the referee whistled the end of a 20-minute thrill-ride at game's end featuring end-to-end play as the Cougars (12-7-2) searched for a tying goal.
Antioch will face St. Ignatius (17-5-2) in its first-ever supersectional appearance at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Stevenson.
"(Vernon Hills) could easily be the team moving on -- they are just as deserving," said an exhausted Polakow. "We were dominated in the first half, survived that, went up (2-0) and then allowed them to get back into the game. After that it was just frantic soccer, but we hung in there to get ourselves the biggest win ever."
Vernon Hills started crisply, as coach Mike McCaulou's team carved out a quality chances in the first quarter hour thanks in part to the energy and creative play from both Christopher and David White at midfield and Jeremy Cohen on the outside. Each took turns putting the Sequoits under pressure on their own and by connecting with junior striker Ilya Kravstev.
"We did just about everything in that first half but score, and as anybody who's been around this sport long enough knows, that will come back to get you later on," said McCaulou.
Keeper Tommy Tritschler excelled for the sectional champs, not only with a handful of smart saves but more importantly with his command of the box and brave challenges of his line to discourage Cougars attacks.
"Yes, I agree, Tommy was terrific out there, he's worked so hard, and he did everything very well for us today, and was vital in our victory," said Polakow.
The Cougars appeared to have finally broken through in the 16th minute when Mattew Hong put Cohen through. He looked to send his well-placed attempt past Tritschler and into the back of the net until a late run and touch by Caleb Shaw brought the offsides flag up.
The Sequoits worked their way back into the match, and captain Jon Bohmann converted his spot kick in the 44th minute.
"I wasn't sure if it was a PK, but we also thought the referee missed one before that, and there was no way he would he decide to overlook two straight fouls in the box," said Polakow.
Antioch appeared to put a dagger in the hopes of the big Vernon Hills crowd when sophomore Danny Brito, the hero in the Sequoits' semifinal victory on Wednesday over Grayslake Central, buried a 25-yard cracker in the 48th minute.
"That PK helped get us back into the game, but Danny's goal was so big for us," Bohmann said. "Then after that we just to work hard to hang on, because we knew they would come at us the rest of the way."
The Cougars did just that.
Pouring forward and pushing numbers up at every chance, Vernon Hills drew closer in the 52nd minute when David White finished a lovely corner from Hong. Then White watched Cohen narrowly miss his cross to the back post.
Tritschler came far off his line to smother Karvstev, who was put through by Shaw, but despite most of the play in the Sequoits end in a wide-open closing quarter hour, Vernon Hills was unable to create anything dangerous on frame before time ran out.
"Again, you see this type of result so often in soccer, and that was too bad for us," said McCaulou. "We were a little unlucky in that first goal, and we didn't defend well enough in their second, but credit Marni and her boys.
"It's really says something for our division in the NSC when two teams were still alive this late in the tournament, and from my end, I couldn't have asked for better group of players, and young men in my first year here. I am really proud of their effort today, and for the season, and it's been great to be a part of history here also, as the first team to be in a sectional final."