GILMAN — As far as games that end regulation in a scoreless tie go, Tuesday’s Iroquois West Invitational championship match between Momence and Iroquois West was as exciting as you ever will see.
For better or for worse.
Momence came away with the trophy in the end after 60 minutes of spectacularly technical, neck-and-neck soccer, banner-worthy performances from either team’s keepers and a prolonged run of penalty kicks that required nine rounds to decide the victor.
Or they would have come away with the trophy, that is, if hadn’t been damaged in the post-match scrum that erupted in the handshake line, which brought coaches, officials and spectators alike streaming onto the pitch.
Once the dust settled and cooler heads had prevailed, both squads left the pitch with nothing worse than a bruise or two. But Tuesday’s events cast an interesting light on the upcoming regional matchup between the two teams once the postseason begins next week.
Talk about luck of the draw.
“It was a very, very good game. I wish we would have left it at that,” Iroquois West coach Rich Alvarez said in the aftermath. “We were competitive, and we kept the score where we wanted it, but unfortunately, it went to penalty kicks. We had our opportunities there, too.
“The competition between us and Momence is one of the better ones, and I talk to their coach, and we like to joke around,” he added. “We like playing each other and welcome the challenge. He knows it, and I know it, but it’s very competitive between us, and I wish it could have just ended there tonight.”
That level of competition was on full display during the championship bout between the two Sangamon Valley Conference rivals, and after 60 minutes of intense pressure for two teams, things finally boiled over.
The Raiders had Momence on the ropes twice during PKs but failed to put them away each time. Their first advantage came in the first set of five kicks when goalie Ulises Aguilera seemed to have tied a ribbon on his top-flight display with a save of Momence’s third try. But the kick that would have sealed the deal went wide-left and allowed Momence’s David Garcia to net his team’s fifth shot to tie the PKs back up at 4-4 and force another group of five shooters from each team onto the field.
Their second opportunity is where things started to drift sideways. The next set of shooters pushed the tie to 7-7 through the next three rounds of shots before Aguilera made another clutch save on a try from Momence’s Julian Ramirez.
Unable to contain their excitement, this sent the Raiders streaming onto the pitch to mob Aguilera near the goal — heedless of the fact they needed to make a final shot to put things on ice.
After the premature celebration was disbanded and the next shot was lined up, Iroquois West’s next shooter missed the goal wide to the left.
Rejuvenated, Momence returned with another successful kick then closed out Iroquois West with a game-winning save from keeper Alan Ortiz that triggered another on-field celebration — but one from the guys in the other uniforms this time.
“We started the game really fast; we played very physical and kept the ball in their final third for most of the match — we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net,” said Momence head coach Alex Habeeb. “But that’s the nature of football. You can dominate the game and have the ball most of the time and just end up with a 0-0 tie. I don’t like to win or lose on PKs, but it ended up that way, and I’m happy with the way the boys have put the things we practice into effect.”
It was a drastic swing from elation to defeat for the Raiders and that sudden change on their proverbial barometer was clearly more than they could handle in the aftermath.
“They were frustrated with our win. When we were shaking hands, I didn’t see anything abnormal, but apparently one of their guys was upset,” Habeeb said. “As far as we were concerned, though, it was a great game, and we’re happy to have played it. I’m not sure what instigated that, but we’re happy to move past it.”