In one of the most dramatic matches of the season, Buffalo Grove's girls soccer team won a test of endurance, will and strength on Saturday afternoon.
The Bison fired back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Lyons Township 4-3 and to advance into the PepsiCo Showdown final next Sunday at Toyota Park, where Buffalo Grove will defend its championship.
"It's kind of amazing, isn't it?" said an exhausted BG coach Pat Dudle, who watched Kim Herzog steer in the game-winner in the 80th minute to complete the Bison's impressive comeback in the semifinal at Olympic Park in Schaumburg. "We obviously were very tired from playing our seventh game in eight days.
"We were already without Sara Busse, and we lost Skylar (Groth) to a possible concussion in the first half. But we never gave in, and Kim got us two big goals to put us through."
That Herzog and the Bison will return to Toyota Park proved quite an accomplishment for the Bison, who were put on their heels at 12 minutes as Katie Doughtery, the Lions' main threat up top, finished a nifty little volley from in close.
The Bison (14-0-0) had their troubles with a big, physical, and well-organized Lyons club (7-1-0).
The Lions are led by the Cincinnati-bound midfielder Emily Lange and Cornell recruit Erin Fitzgerald along with Doughtery and her running mate Kristen Janicki, who came up with plenty of ideas to spend their time in the Bison end.
BG's all-state midfielder Groth was sent to the sidelines after a rugged 50-50 challenge in the 22nd minute.
After a few personnel adjustments, the Bison responded with Allie Ingham pulling the club back even in the 26th minute.
"Allie pulled back into the midfield after Skylar went down, but we stayed in our usual 4-3-3, and everyone did a great job doing the extra work after Skylar was injured," said Bison junior Jessica Kovach.
Early into the second period, Lyons was still dominating play. The Lions almost made it look easy as they surprised the Bison with two quick goals within two minutes to take a 3-1 advantage at 52 minutes after Janicki and Doughtery finished chances.
"It was after those two goals that I felt that maybe tired legs from this long week may have finally caught up to us," Kovach said. "Allie pulled one back about 10 minutes later to make it a game again. But Kim's goal brought us back to life."
In the run of play, Ingham's left-footed bomb from the right side nestled into the far inside corner at 62 minutes.
That set up Herzog's equalizer three minutes later when the versatile senior came in from the right side and drove her angled blast off the gloves of Lyons keeper Lidia Breen.
Dudle moved his sophomore back-line star Amanda Kowalski up top, alongside scoring ace Kelli Zickert.
Little by little, the duo started to make their presence felt in the heart of the Lyons defense.
Kovach initiated the game-winner from midfield, connecting with Kowalski, who found Zickert, who in turn put a lovely ball near the spot.
Herzog somehow was able to fire under a diving Breen.
"I felt like Allie's second goal really energized us, but I have to admit it felt great to score the goal that put us back into the final next weekend," said Herzog, who has played along the back line for Dudle, as well on the outside at midfield.
"Amanda Kowalski has the size and skill to make a difference, so we moved her up, and Danielle (Allaire) did a great job when she came in on defense," Dudle said. "And everybody else never stopped working, and playing. It really says a lot about this team, especially in a week like we just finished."