CRYSTAL LAKE -- Sometimes a game boils down to one simple sentence.
“We made the most of our moment,” Crystal Lake South coach Brian Allen said.
It came in dramatic fashion in Thursday’s Fox Valley Conference showdown against visiting Prairie Ridge. In the end, it was the only moment that mattered.
It started with the Gators’ Brendan Lewis finding a ball at his feet on the right side, directly in front of the Crystal Lake South bench. With roughly five seconds remaining in the first half, he was quickly made aware of his situation.
“They told me I had time to take one touch and send it,” Lewis said. “I saw their defender was checking all the way in, so I sent it back post and hoped someone would be there on the end of it.”
Lewis sent the perfect cross to the far post from 30 yards. That’s where Nick Prus made the moment that mattered, matter most.
Prus charged toward the post and buried the game’s lone goal from point-blank range with a single second remaining on the clock.
“I saw there was only a couple seconds left, and (Lewis) was close enough to shoot a ball, or cross a ball,” Prus said. “So, I come in back post, last second.”
The FVC showdown win gave Crystal Lake South an upper hand toward the conference title. The Gators have now beaten the top Fox Valley Conference contenders -- Dundee-Crown and Prairie Ridge.
The energy and intensity on the field from the opening whistle was palpable.
“This is what Fox Valley play is all about. You can’t take any plays off,” Crystal Lake South coach Brian Allen said. “If you do, you put yourself into trouble, and (Prairie Ridge) certainly put us in some difficult spots. That’s a credit to them.
“But man, I’m proud of our boys. That’s the second-straight conference shutout against another dynamic team, just like Dundee-Crown. And I can’t say enough about our backline.”
Gators defenders Garrett Hess, Pierce Johnson, Diego Paguada and Blake Marunde had their hands full Thursday. Prairie Ridge features two big-bodied, skilled, smart attacking players in Henry Knoll and Mason Fowler. They posted up all day with Gators draped onto their backs.
Crystal Lake South goalkeeper Chris Slawek made a pair of high-quality, shutout-saving saves on the day. He also applauded his backline.
“They’re all great. Pierce had to stand on Henry’s back the entire game. He was absolutely amazing today,” Slawek said. “Blake was on Fowler, and when they switched up the sides, Diego was right there with him. And Garrett cleaned up everything. I couldn’t be happier with the guys I have in front of me.”
Crystal Lake South (6-3-1, 2-0-0) pressured early, earning a slew of the restarts in its attacking third. But the chances mainly flew wide or over the bar.
Prairie Ridge (9-2-0, 1-1-0) struggled to find the one-touch style of play the Wolves are built on, but did find a few quality looks that were also sent wide.
Prairie Ridge keeper Chris Zinevich tipped a hard-hit shot over the bar at 32 minutes to keep the game scoreless, and the teams traded restarts in the 10 minutes prior to halftime.
Crystal Lake South’s Nolan Getzinger was busy all day wreaking havoc through the midfield. He and forward Ali Ahmed have been the chief scorers for the Gators through 10 games.
Through 40 minutes, however, Crystal Lake South saw more players get involved in dangerous space, and Prus’ goal before halftime was a strong sign moving forward.
“The effort we put in was really good. Our midfield stepped up into the attack and got those chances, because for a lot of the season it’s just been Ali and Nolan,” Lewis said. “It was good to get everyone up there.”
Park Ridge coach Josef Schroeder applauded Chase Vrba and Seth Matson, who led his backline, for hounding Getzinger all day.
His counterpart Allen was pleased with the intensity his boys showed from the outset.
“We got the start that we wanted to and then you’ve just got to bide your time, because it doesn’t matter when it comes,” Allen said. “Just be patient and stay the course.”
Prairie Ridge answered the bell after halftime. The Wolves played to feet and put Crystal Lake South on its heels to start the second half.
“They tend to do one-touch clearances a lot, and we had to win it and get that ball on the floor,” Schroeder said. “Then we had to deal with their pressure, because they were definitely pressuring, and had to play our game. We had more opportunities in the second half, and they were able to defend a little more because they’re up 1-0.
“It was kind of an ugly game, and it was a battle. We knew it would be going in, and they got the better of us today. There was a lot of energy, a lot of emotion, and that’s what you want in games like this one.”
With Fowler and Knoll posting up near the 18 and receiving balls consistently, the task was left to Crystal Lake South’s defense to keep the Wolves at bay and out of the net.
“It was communication and matching their physicality,” Marunde said. “As long as we were as physical, we were able to basically shield them off from any good chances and contain them. And as long as we talked, we knew where all their runners were.”
Slawek made a great save on a Knoll blast from 12 yards at 62 minutes and finished with three saves. His mates limited Prairie Ridge’s dangerous scoring chances with an exceptional effort containing Fowler and Knoll.
“We ask a lot out of Henry and Mason, and they had (defenders) on their backs,” Schroeder said. “We ask them to hold that ball, and that’s tough. They know they’re going to get hit from behind. They have to hold that ball in order for our midfielders to come through, which is how we want to advance it instead of having them turn-and-burn. (Crystal Lake South) did a great job defending today.”
Allen was asked after the game to list a couple players for particularly fine performances Thursday. He didn’t hesitate with an answer.
“Can I name the full starting 11?” Allen said. “Because it takes the entire team, they jelled today, and I’m just so proud of all our guys right now.
“Blake, Pierce, Diego, Garrett — it’s never just one guy. It’s an entire backline covering for each other and when they were put on islands, they didn’t back down. That’s a credit to how hard they’ve been working all season.”
Crystal Lake South’s rugged early season schedule paid dividends Thursday.
“I’m so happy coach put up a schedule like that because it prepared us for this game,” Prus said. “This is what it’s about. We played Dundee-Crown before this, and Prairie Ridge is one of the best schools in the Fox Valley. The past few games we played Lake Zurich and Grayslake Central and even though we lost, those games also prepared us for this. We learn from those games so we can play better now.”
For scoring the game-winning goal, Prus earned Chicagoland Soccer’s Man of the Match honor.
GK: Chris Zinevich
D: Chase Vrba
D: Seth Matson
D: Carter Fredrikson
D: Kaj Justeson
MF: Logan Braun
MF: Sam Kirk
MF: Chase Santucci
MF: Jensen Schroeder
F: Henry Knoll
F: Mason Fowler
Crystal Lake South
GK: Chris Slawek
D: Garrett Hess
D: Blake Marunde
D: Diego Paguada
D: Pierce Johnson
MF: Nolan Getzinger
MF: Brendan Lewis
MF: Nick Prus
MF: Hayden Stone
MF: Nico Velasco
F: Ali Ahmed
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Nick Prus, jr., MF, Crystal Lake South
CL South: Prus (Lewis) 40th minute