Bad weather forced the Illinois High School Association to postpone the Class 3A Maine East Sectional soccer tournament semifinals and pushed the doubleheader back to Thursday night.
Evanston and New Trier made it worth the wait.
In a wild finish that almost defied description, the Wildkits outlasted the Trevians in the second round of penalty kicks for an unforgettable 4-3 victory that was one of the most remarkable in ETHS postseason history.
It took a game-winning penalty kick by Danny Managlia — his first career PK — and two saves from sophomore goalkeeper Ramen Abraham in his varsity debut in the PK shootout to deliver the spine-tingling win that sent the Kits into Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game against top-seeded Glenbrook North.
Managlia and Abraham topped the list of heroes for Evanston, now 17-1-4 overall. Managlia, who played one of his best games on the season on defense but made mistakes that led to two New Trier goals, earned redemption as Evanston’s 9th shooter in the penalty kick portion of the game.
But before he had his chance, the two teams combined for three goals in the final 3 minutes and 54 seconds of the mandatory second overtime period, including a game-tying goal by New Trier’s Kenji Nii on a penalty kick with 39 seconds remaining.
Managlia’s boot over the head of New Trier’s 6-foot-5 keeper, Sam Rutherford, triggered a postgame celebration seldom seen even in the most intense high school rivalry in the state of Illinois.
Evanston now leads the all-time series between the two schools with 42 wins to 39 for the Trevians. The teams have tied 22 times, including a 1-1 deadlock during the regular season.
“I couldn’t have imagined an ending like this!” exclaimed an ecstatic Managlia. “When it comes to this rivalry, it’s really all about heart. There were a couple of PKs on both sides that could have been called, but weren’t, but it was a very hard game to ref because of the intensity.
“With 58 seconds left I thought we were gonna win it. Two of the goals New Trier scored tonight were my fault, so I wanted a chance to redeem myself. We had two opportunities to win it (in the PK shootout) before it was my turn, but he (Rutherford) saved both shots. I just told myself not to give him a chance to make another save.
“I’ve never taken a penalty kick before in high school and I missed the only one I tried in practice. I struck it well and it just felt so good. But one more foot and I would have hit the crossbar. That’s how close it was.”
“This really is New Trier-Evanston. I’ve never seen a game like that, it was just incredible,” said Evanston coach Franz Calixte. “These boys earned it tonight. They played with class all the way through adversity. They totally believed to the very end that they had a chance to win this one, and it was definitely a great team win.
“This is one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of. I’m proud to be a Wildkit after this one.”
Calixte gambled on Abraham when time ran out in the second OT period, as he replaced junior starter Gavin Rosengarten in the net. Now Abraham, a Syrian native who came to Evanston a year and a half ago to escape the war in the Middle East, already has established a reputation as a New Trier “killer”.
Part of the reason the coach turned to Abraham was the fact that he stopped two PKs in the sophomore conference tournament win against the Trevians. The other is his physique in a situation where Calixte knows bigger is better.
“He’s a big kid in the net, with his physique — just look at him! — and he’s also as quick as a cat,” Calixte said. “He really came through for us.”
“Before we scored that third goal, coach told me to start warming up, we might need you,” said Abraham. “I’m just so happy I was able to get a win for our team in a sectional game like this.”
Evanston counted PK scores by Henry Maltezos, Colin Thompson, Andy Brown and Miguel Jimenez and both teams each missed once in the first round. The winners trailed 1-0 in the second round — despite a diving effort for a save by Abraham — but got even when Dylan TerMolen drilled a shot into the back of the net past Rutherford.
Abraham stopped the next Trevian shooter, Michael Zummer, with a dive to his right and that set up the game-winner by Managlia.
ETHS got on the scoreboard first on a long (40-yards plus) boot on a restart from Josh Klier that glanced off Rutherford’s hands in the 34th minute. Five minutes later New Trier (11-7-4) pulled even on a counterattack by Nii, aided greatly by the fact that the ball skipped between defender Managlia’s legs on the slick and natural turf.
Neither team scored again in regulation. Evanston was whistled for a tripping foul early in the first overtime, awarding a PK and a subsequent goal to Al-ameen Salako.
In the second OT, with time running out on their season, the Kits dug deep and showed their true character. First Chloise Nkurunziza cranked in a left-footed shot when he didn’t even seem to be looking in the direction of the net, and then the hustle of another unlikely hero, Santiago Corona, led to a successful PK by Jimenez with 2:21 remaining on the clock.
Corona, who was knocked to the ground earlier with no whistle, made an impact after missing almost the entire season due to a knee injury. He was a late addition to the varsity roster and didn’t step onto the field during regulation play Thursday.
“We were looking at Santi to be a target striker for us,” Calixte pointed out. “But he tore up his knee and had to have surgery. He did come back and score a couple of goals for the JV team at the end of the season, but he’s still not 100 percent. You have to give full credit to (assistant coach)Fernando Ferrer who worked with Santi to help him keep fit and get healthy.
“We put him in there because with the conditions (slick, wet grass) tonight we knew we had to play more direct against New Trier. He definitely earned his keep tonight.”