The families of 14 Evanston varsity soccer players gather on Lazier Field on Senior Night earlier this year. Credit: Richard Cahan

It’s been quite awhile since any opposing soccer team has had a reason to celebrate on Evanston’s home turf in the postseason.

Maybe it’s just appropriate that the latest team to earn that distinction has adopted the nickname “Champions.”

Lane Tech struck for two goals in the first half and that was good enough to snap Evanston’s string of 10 straight Illinois High School Association Class 3A regional tournament championships in a 2-0 triumph Saturday at Lazier Field.

The Champions – who took a new school name after dropping the politically incorrect moniker of Indians just recently – improved to 14-4-1 on the season and advanced to the Glenbrook South Sectional tournament semifinals after dumping No. 2 seed Evanston. The Wildkits went to the sidelines with a final mark of 13-5-3.

Goals by Henry Winston in the 16th minute and Colin DuRoss in the 37th minute of the title game at ETHS led to an inspired defensive effort in the second half by the Chicago school.

And Evanston?

All the Wildkits could do was think about what might have been.

“Even down 2-0 at halftime, we thought we were gonna come back and win this game. We thought so right until the last 4 minutes or so,” said a somber Evanston head coach, Franz Calixte. “That’s the mentality that these seniors had all year.

“But we couldn’t get the first one (goal). We missed chances early in the game and we had a lot of unforced turnovers, and missed passes. We put too many crosses in the air when they should have been on the ground. That costs you opportunities – and that cost us the game.”

A stunning turnaround midway through the first half put the hosts back on their heels and they never really recovered. The Wildkits had apparently taken a 1-0 lead when Pascal Calonges banged home a rebound of a shot by Bryan Maldonado, but the Kits were whistled for an offside violation – wiping out the momentum and the lead.

Forty-five seconds later, Winston deflected a bouncing ball with his head past Evanston junior goalie Cade Likhite and the Kits were on the wrong end of a 1-0 score on a play where Wildkit defender Patrick Osilaja was knocked to the ground and no foul was called.

Lane Tech’s second goal, by DuRoss, was close to an offsides call as well.

“It’s Murphy’s Law of Soccer and I’ve seen it happen a lot,” said Calixte. “When they took our goal away, I said right on the bench ‘now they’re about to score’ and they did. It didn’t look to me like it was offsides and there had been a couple of questionable offside calls before that.

“But I still really thought we’d come back. We worked on a lot of scenarios this week in practice – up 1-0, down 1-0, down 2-0 with so much time left – and we scored on all of them. No one panicked. But we just couldn’t put them away.”

Evanston dominated the time of possession in the second half but the Champions’ defense was equal to the task. Lane Tech goalie Gael Rodriguez was credited with seven saves in the second half, but most of Evanston’s attempts came from long range.

Rodriguez knocked away a rocket shot by Joseph Munyaneza midway through the half, and in turn was knocked out of the game when he didn’t dodge another bullet off the leg of Maldonado with 13:20 left in regulation play. Rodriguez never did return to the pitch, but backup goalie Andres Murdock was only tested twice – on a 40-yard boot by Maldonado and a rolling effort from Sam Darer – before time ran out on the Wildkits.

Evanston’s senior Class of 2023 did capture the Central Suburban League South division championship this fall despite losing to New Trier. The Trevians were held to ties in two of the games after that and ETHS prevailed on a point system.

But ask Calixte any year and he wouldn’t trade winning a sectional for winning the conference.

“You can keep the conference championship,” he said. “Give us the sectional. That’s what we prepare for all year.

“I guess it was an omen (of things to come) because we were not able to score at the end of the year. We only scored once in our last two regular season games — on a penalty kick — and we scored four goals against Maine West (in the regional opener) when it should have been eight. We out-possessed and out-shot the last two teams we played and still didn’t score.

“Lane Tech’s defense was great today. They were big down the middle and they won a lot of head balls against us. Sometimes the ball just bounces in favor of the other team.”

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