BY CHAD DARE
---- — CATLIN — The Salt Fork/Westville soccer program honored five seniors before Tuesday’s Vermilion Valley Conference match against Hoopeston Area.
At the end of the match, Jordan Romo, one of the five seniors, scored one of the biggest goals of his career on a penalty kick in the final minute to give the Storm Tigers a 2-1 victory over the Cornjerkers.
“No, I didn’t know how much time was left,’’ Romo said. “I just thought it was my duty as a team captain and as a senior to to take the kick — and finish it.
“It was very emotional and it’s a good way to cap our senior day.’’
Romo slipped a shot in the left-handed corner of the net as Hoopeston Area keeper Trey Layden went diving right.
“I’m so proud of him,’’ Salt Fork/Westville coach Todd Woods said. “For him to step up as a senior on senior day and finish it on the PK is a great accomplishment.’’
With the victory, the Storm Tigers (9-6 overall) keep their hopes alive to claim a share of the conference title. Salt Fork/Westville improves to 6-1 in the league, while Hoopeston Area (15-3 overall) has finished the conference season at 7-1.
“It will be the first-ever conference title,’’ said junior Noah Darr, of the Salt Fork/Westville program that has been together for eight years. “It will be great to get something to put up on the walls at school for the soccer program.’’
But Woods was quick to point out, his team still has some work to do.
“A week ago, we told our kids that we could get a piece of the conference title if we won out,’’ he said. “That’s been our goal, but we still have to finish it on Thursday against Oakwood.’’
A repeat performance from Tuesday’s game will go a long ways for the Storm Tigers.
“That was probably the hardest we’ve played all year,’’ Romo said. “It was a great team win and a big confidence booster.
“Hoopeston has been the conference champions the last three years and if we can win on Thursday, we would get a piece of the title. It would mean so much, especially getting it in your senior year.’’
The Cornjerkers, who will still claim their fourth straight league title, will use Tuesday’s loss as they prepare for IHSA Class 1A postseason play next week.
“They played an inspired game,’’ said Hoopeston Area coach John Klaber about the Salt Fork/Westville team. “I take this loss on myself — we weren’t prepared. We were flat and in the end, it was energy and heart that won this game. They played huge tonight from opening whistle to ending whistle. They played as a team. I couldn’t be prouder of them.
“In the end, if we have to share the conference title, we’re glad it’s them. We want to use this as a building block to later in the season.’’
Neither team was able to generate a lot of offense on Tuesday as both Hoopeston Area and Salt Fork/Westville finished with six shots on goal.
“Defensively, it was a very good game. Offensively, we needed to get more shots on goal,’’ Darr said. “Fortunately, we didn’t get as many shots as we wanted, but we scored just enough to win.’’
According to Woods, the Storm Tigers made a slight adjustment in preparation for the Cornjerkers.
“Hoopeston Area is known as a possession team and they will work the ball until they get a good shot opportunity,’’ Woods said. “We worked on containing them, instead of stabbing on defense and giving them opportunities to score.
“Our whole defense played great and to keep Hoopeston to just one goal for a whole game is great.’’
The home pitch for the Salt Fork/Westville program at Catlin High School is a little unique, as it’s probably the shortest in the VVC.
“This place is our kryptonite,’’ said Klaber, whose team has lost back-to-back games in Catlin. “It’s a little different and it’s a little smaller. They play their field well. But, when you play Salt Fork at home, you have to know they are going to play inspired soccer and they will give you everything they got.
“You can’t come in here expecting to win. You have to work your butt off to make it happen. They outworked us and they just beat us today.’’
The Storm Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the 24th minute on a own goal when a Cornjerker defender’s sliding attempt to clear a crossing pass actually knocked the ball into his goal. That lead held until the 61st minute when Hoopeston Area’s Brennan Crose slipped past the Salt Fork/Westville defense and scored on a pass from Skyler Bernard, tying the game at 1-1.
“I thought our kids responded well, they didn’t let that goal bother them,’’ Woods said.
Both teams had scoring opportunities in the final five minutes, but it was the Storm Tigers that got the final attempt when the Cornjerkers got called for a hand ball inside of the penalty box in the final minute. That set up Romo to be the senior hero on Tuesday.
Other seniors honored before the match were Jordyn Woods, D.J. Nourie, Dakota Spears and Tanner Smith.