Willowbrook entered Tuesday's Class 3A St. Charles North boys soccer regional on a 4-game winning streak, but it was a 4-goal second half for the host North Stars that put the game away.
Leading 1-0 at halftime, No. 1 seed St. Charles North (12-2-4) flexed its muscles in the second half, scoring early and often to end No. 17 seed Willowbrook's season.
The North Stars will play for the regional championship at 2 p.m. Saturday against No. 7 seed St. Charles East, a 2-1 winner over No. 9 Benet in overtime.
Besides Jacobs, St. Charles East is the only team to beat the North Stars this year, and the Saints did it by a 3-0 score.
"Ever since the seedings came out we were looking at the regional final and hoping," said Peter Willis, who scored the first goal for the North Stars. "We want to show them who we really are because that wasn't us, we were way too cocky, we came off winning the Pepsi Challenge and thought we could beat anyone."
The Warriors (7-11) were coming off a 3-2 win over Hoffman Estates on Monday. It was a costly victory as center-mid Miguel Correa picked up a red card, which sidelined him Tuesday.
"He's one of our captains, he's an all-sectional player you just can't replace," Willowbrook coach Ed Delacruz said. "We were playing with no center-mid today. That's the only position I don't have a lot of depth in. I'm really proud of the effort the guys put up in the first half in general. I think in the second half a little tired legs, St. Charles North is one heck of a team, you could tell the depth in the second half."
Neither team had many quality chances in the first 20 minutes. The North Stars began to get better looks, and they broke through with the first goal 14 minutes before halftime.
Jake Persenico took a corner kick, and Willis timed his leap perfectly, heading the ball past Willowbrook keeper Mario Giase.
"Coach (Eric Willson) always emphasizes heading the ball back where it came from so I tried for the bottom right corner," Willis said. "We have a good chemistry."
Persenico agreed, saying it is a play they spend much of practice working on.
"We're always practicing those corner kick plays," Persenico said. "I'm always looking for him on the ball, he's one of the best headers."
The Warriors stayed within a goal for the first 10 minutes of the second half. They even forced North Stars keeper Piercarlo Ricossa to make a diving save.
St. Charles North made it 2-0 when Matthew Beaulieu sent a cross to Bernard Elegbede whose shot deflected off a defender right back to him. Elegbede fired again, bending his shot into the right corner of the goal.
Just a minute later, Persenico broke free and finished for a 3-0 lead.
"He's (Persenico) a dynamic player," Willson said. "When he's at his best is when he's playing quick with his speed of play in certain spots on the field and then recognizing when it's time for him to take somebody on the dribble. When he recognizes that stuff he's pretty tough to stop."
Chasing three goals, Willowbrook moved Tomas Hernandez to the top looking for more offense.
Instead, the North Stars found a couple openings. Gabriel D'Amico blasted in a rebound and Noah Linn scored on another breakaway to finish the big second half.
"Our captains did a great job talking at halftime, motivating us," Persenico said. "We came out stronger and took more opportunities."
"I thought it was a decent first half," Willson said. "There were some things in the offensive third we could have done better excretion wise. But I certainly felt we had the run of play. In the postseason it's going to take awhile to break a team down, and Willowbrook was playing hard and for its playoff lives too.
"We just kind of overpowered them in the second half and did some nice things offensively."
Willowbrook caught fire at the end of the season, a streak that coincided with getting healthy.
"This is the hardest part now," Delacruz said of saying goodbye to his seniors. "They love this game of soccer. Some of them this is the last time they get to lace it up."