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Game story: Naperville North works its way past Collinsville

By Bobby Narang, 11/02/23, 1:15AM CDT

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Huskies return to Final Four, mount 2nd half comeback to post 2-1 win

AURORA – Back on Aug. 22, the second day of the 2023 season, Naperville North had a different view.

The Huskies were stopped with a 17-4-4 record thanks to rival Naperville Central, who took them down in the Class 3A Bolingbrook Sectional final. The Redhawks went on to their first state title.

Naperville North, the 2023 version, was full of question marks, mainly due to an inexperienced lineup that would include just one senior starter, midfielder Hindo Allie.

After the Huskies opened the season with a 5-2 loss against West Chicago, expectations for the season were uncertain.

“We said ‘We have a lot of talent on this team, but we could be better,’” Naperville North sophomore defender/forward Andrew Hebron said. “We didn’t know what the rest of the season would look like.”

Jump forward to Halloween night. The Huskies were still playing late in the season, despite their youth and lack of senior presence. Though the weather was frightful with cold and snow, the Huskies were neither bothered by the weather conditions nor a 1-0 deficit against Collinsville.

The lead bolstered the Kahoks.

"Scoring the early goal in those conditions allowed the boys to take a breath and understand that they can play Naperville North," said Collinsville coach Robert Lugge. "I was proud of the boys for never giving up, even when things didn't seem to be going our way." 

The 80 minutes of soccer led to a surreal feeling for the Huskies, who made a a complete 180-degree turn from that first game. Although the season started off on a hot and sunny day, the Huskies seemed more in their element playing in the dark and cold conditions at East Aurora High School.

Right before the final whistle on Tuesday night, a Naperville North trio of Josh Pedersen, Sam Hess and Connor Hanrahan stood in a perfect line at the 50-yard line.

Just a few feet from each other, the players watched the final seconds tick off in their Class 3A East Aurora Supersectional against Collinsville. The Huskies had only dealt with a few scary moments on Halloween, which were topped by falling behind early in the first half following a Collinsville goal.

But otherwise, the Huskies wore the villain’s disguise – at least in the eyes of Collinsville -- on a miserable weather night at Roy E. Davis Field.

Once the final whistle blew to cement Naperville North’s 2-1 comeback victory over Collinsville, the Huskies began celebrating their advancement to the state semifinals. Hess started jumping up and down, eventually choosing to leap high into the arms of Pedersen. Anthony Flores hit the turf to revel in the victory.

Naperville North’s Noah Radeke calmly walked over to soothe the feeling of Collinsville’s Joey Morales, who laid on the ground for several minutes.

The Huskies (22-1-3) advanced to their first state semifinal appearance in four years. Naperville North is two wins away from capturing the program’s fifth state championship after winning three in a row from 2016-18. They enter the match with Lions on a 25-match unbeaten streak. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday at Hoffman Estates High School. 

Several Huskies said the season has been a whirlwind of emotions.

“It’s kind of unbelievable,” Naperville North junior defender Niko Ladas said. “We worked all season to get here and worked very, very hard. We lost our first game, maybe not thinking it was going to be a good season. Then we’ve gone undefeated ever since. I don’t even know.”

Allie said he had a simple message for the Huskies following their defeat to West Chicago. He called the victory over Collinsville (14-6-1) a long journey that showcased the team’s potential.

“It’s a surreal feeling. Even in middle school I dreamed of doing this. Now to captain the team and to be a part of such a unique and special group, it means everything to me,” Allie said. “I’m over the moon. We lost our first game of the year, but I wasn’t worried. I knew the talent we had on the team. I think we needed that initial loss, and it really kick-started our mentality. It’s been a total switch from our first game to where we are now. I’m so happy we’ve made it this far and excited to see what we do on Friday and Saturday.”

Naperville North sophomore defender Colin McMahon said the team built a strong resolve throughout the season that carried into the supersectional.

“It was being organized as a team,” McMahon said. “We knew they were a very good team and knew they would put up a good fight. We had to put up a good fight. We were confident all week going into the game and had a lot of chances in the first half.  I’m so excited for state. I want to build the legacy for the teams to come and also who were before us.”

Hanrahan, a junior, said the 1-0 halftime deficit didn’t faze the team.

“This has happened to us before, like against Romeoville (a 3-1 sectional semifinal win Oct. 25),” Hanrahan said. “We had the same thing at halftime, not just talking about tactics but how we will move other people around and getting the go-ahead goal and another one.

“We talked about keeping our heads cool, which is the most important thing. So you can’t chase. We kept calm and knew we were going to get a goal, because we had so many shots. We got that first goal, and we knew we were okay and going. It’s very special. I remember watching the other teams when I was little in fourth and fifth grade, coming down and watching them at state. I’m excited.”

The Huskies reached the final four in the state tournament by scoring both of their goals in the final half. The Huskies, who last won a state championship in 2018, received goals from Jaxon Stokes and Hebron. Collinsville scored the first goal of the game in shocking fashion, when Sam Garofalo scored from 15 yards inside the far post with 24:21 remaining in the first half.

Naperville North coach Jim Konrad said he had simple message to his team following Collinsville’s surprising opener.

“’We are okay; it’s going to come,’” Konrad said. “You could feel it. Just keep doing the work. It’s tough to keep Stokes and Radeke off the board for the whole game. Stokes came through; Noah battled all game, and Andrew plays the winner again.”

The Huskies failed to score a goal in the first half. Niko Ladas drilled a shot over the net, Stokes’ blast was deflected by two defenders; Radeke’s header was saved, Another Stokes shot was deflected.

Yet, the team never panicked.

“We talked about how we had to be better,” Konrad said. “This isn’t the team the coach knew, and isn’t the team, the team knew. We just had to be better if we wanted to win state. I think we left some goals on the field in the first half. We had three super high-quality chances. Their kid makes a great play, gets inside and buries it. They score a great goal.

“I’m proud the boys were able to hang on and battle even though we have room to improve with two games left. Obviously, we were good enough today to get it done. I couldn’t be prouder.”

The Huskies went to work in the second half – like immediately.

Right from the second half start, the Huskies jumped on Collinsville. Stokes tied the game just 13 seconds after the clock restarted, placing a shot from nine yards into the back of the net.

Collinsville's strategic plan flew out the window.

"At halftime, we discussed continuing to pressure and play as simple as possible. The change came 13 seconds into the second half when Naperville scored," Lugge said. "Once that happened, we seemed to panic for a little while which took us out of our game. 

"Naperville North did a good job of pressuring our backline and forcing us to make more errors than we are used to. Naperville North's ability to get the ball forward quickly to their two talented strikers and then offer support around the ball had us on our heels."

After the tally, Naperville North was a different team, full of energy and life.

“The goals have not come easy on restarts this year,” Konrad said. “It’s been a year where we haven’t relied on them. Stokes gets the first one to get things even and calm things down right away in the second half.

“We then scored the second goal, and it got a bit nervy. (Collinsville) is a good team, and they try and play on you. They sprung free a couple of times, but I’m proud the boys hung on in the battle.”

Just over 12 minutes later, the Huskies seized the game-winner on their next shot attempt. Ladas had a long throw-in that Radeke headed into the air. As soon as the ball bounced off the turf, Hebron booted a shot from four yards off the underside of the crossbar and into the back of the net.

“I saw Niko throw it. It happened once in the first half where I almost had a chance,” Hebron said. “Noah headed it up, and the ball landed. I just blasted it as hard as I could, because I knew we had to score.”

Ladas has a simple approach to throw-ins.

“I basically wind up and throw it as hard as I can,” he said. “I’ve always been able to throw it far since I was young. I’ve been practicing since I’ve been five. My mom has been helping me. I just threw it. When I saw Andrew hit it far down, it was a perfect goal.”

Hebron, who started the season as a defender, is on a goal-scoring spree. He scored his first goal in the regular-season finale and has added two more in the playoffs.

“I never thought I would be a goal-scorer until recently,” Hebron said. “This is so much fun. I was so excited for the high school season, but I didn’t know it would be as fun as this.”

Konrad said Hebron is playing at a high level.

“Andrew is a freak athlete whose super explosive and fast and gets going fast and stays fast,” Konrad said. “He’s done a really good job of playing as simple as possible. He played in the back a whole big part of the year, and now we’re using him in the midfield primarily. If we would’ve stayed down, we would’ve put him in the midfield and pushed Connor Hanrahan up. He applied so much pressure.

“(Hebron) was fantastic again tonight. He just runs and runs and runs. He’s going in and out, and in and out and gets in there and scores a goal.”

Collinsville tried to tie the game on Trey Peterson’s shot that sailed wide right in the 65th minute. The Kahoks’ final close attempt came via a 46-yard free kick that Naperville North goalie Jack Bouska, who made four saves, easily saved in the 71st minute.

"The conditions really changed how we play," Lugge said. "We are more of a possession-based team, and on a snow-covered field this was not possible. This forced us to come up with different ways to attack which really made the game more difficult for us.

"I wish we could have played this game in normal soccer conditions which would have allowed the boys to showcase how talented they are. I could not be more proud of this group of boys and their willingness to play for each other. "

Standing on the 22-yard line with the snow falling on his face, Naperville North's Hebron basked in the moment.

“The weather was crazy,” he said. “We talked about how we had to be better and the team knew and just had to be better if we wanted to win state.”

 


Starting lineups

Naperville North
GK: Jack Bouska
D: Connor Hanrahan
D: Colin McMahon
D: Niko Ladas
MF: Hindo Allie
MF: Juan Carlos Hernandez
MF: Sam Hess
MF: Anthony Flores
F: Noah Radeke
F: Josh Pedersen
F: Jaxon Stokes

Collinsville
GK: Braden Henson
D: Dane Compton
D: Brayden Boerm
D: Joey Morales
D: Landon Mahat
MF: T.J. Carter
MF: Chris Munoz
MF: Trey Peterson
F: Adam Reiniger
F: Sam Garofalo
F: Juan Carlos Doria
 
Chicagoland Soccer Man of the Match: Andrew Hebron, so., D, Naperville North
 

Scoring summary

First half
Collinsville: Garofalo (unassisted), 16’

Second half
Naperville North: Stokes (unassisted), 41’
Naperville North: Hebron (Radeke), 53’