BY AARON PATTERSON
Only seven days separated meetings between the Hoopeston Area/Bismarck-Henning and Danville soccer teams, and on Saturday, it seemed as though it might take another week to complete their Class 2A Champaign Central Regional quarterfinal match.
Twenty-five minutes, 49 seconds into action, the Danville Vikings held a 1-0 advantage, and play was stopped for a weather delay. Five hours, 22 minutes later, play finally resumed and Danville ultimately put two more goals in the back of the net to secure a 3-0 win. The Vikings advance to Tuesday’s semifinal in Champaign against top-seeded Urbana.
“It’s just an odd game,” Danville coach Chris Griffin said. “You get 26 minutes in and you’re up 1-0 and you’re playing well. Then the thunder hits, the lightening hits, and we get that delay.
“When we came back, we had 14 minutes, 11 seconds on the clock. I turned and pointed and said, ‘Fourteen minutes, 11 seconds is going to make the determination who wins this and who loses it. Whoever wins this is going to win the game.’ We came and laid an egg. I told them we dodged a 14 minute, 11 second bullet. They were all over our face for 14 minutes and 11 seconds, and we had no answer for them.”
Chase Thurston finally found an answer, however, in the 45th minute on Jordan Allen’s second assist of the day. Just under four minutes later, Mikee Maniquis netted Danville’s third goal on an assist from Luis Rubio, and the Vikings finally regained control of the contest. Chase Norton scored the Vikings’ first goal 1:15 into the game.
HABH didn’t get its first shot of the second half until 9:15 had expired from the clock, but that shot was wide. The Cornjerkers finally got a shot on goal with just over 19 minutes remaining, and managed only two more.
“Credit Danville, they put it together when they had to, and we didn’t,” HABH coach John Klaber said. “It’s a lot easier to play in front than it is playing from behind. They just finished the opportunities and we didn’t.
“I credit Chris. They had a good game plan coming out of half. I told them that the (weather) break helped us leading into the last 14 minutes we had (in the first half), and the half helped them to kind of regroup that. We were kind of on our heels. It’s just kind of the way the cookie crumbled.”
The Cornjerkers (13-8-1) were the aggressors when play resumed following the weather delay, but the Vikings (7-8-6) held them off long enough to escape for the halftime break.
That’s when Griffin scrapped his potential second half game plan in favor of the original.
“I went through a couple of notes on the 14-minute segment and then I went back to my pregame notes. I said, ‘We’re starting over. We’ve got 40 minutes and here’s what we talked about before the game started.’ I went through each one of those bullet points. In the second half, I just really thought our guys came out with a good level of intensity and really, really moved the ball well. We moved the ball side-to-side. Luis Rubio, Mikee Maniquis were streaking up the sidelines. I thought that was the difference in the game. I thought Luis played as good of a game as he did all year and was nonstop.”
Griffin also credited Gracson Torres for manning the middle of the field, and a handful of players who stepped up in the absence of captain DeMarion Hatfield. Thurston was dropped back to sweeper, and the collective efforts of Matt Clark, Luke Robinson, Dylan Harris, Cody Rew, and Jacob Huff helped extend the Vikings season for one more game.
Danville has now won five of its last seven contests, and tied one other marking an impressive turnaround from the team’s 1-6-2 start. A season of struggle — beginning with the loss of Eziquio Flores two games into the season, the decision by Mac Leverenz to play for a club in St. Louis, and two additional players who chose to simply not play — has turned into a season of growth with a cast of unexpected stars.
The Cornjerkers, though finishing with a winning record, are continuing to find ways to compete at the 2A level, and are striving to gain more opponents during the regular season that will help them during the postseason. With more success comes higher expectations.
“We basically return 10 starters, which is great, but like we told the kids, as a program, as coaches, as players, we have to realize that winning 14 or 15 games, winning a conference is no longer acceptable,” Klaber said. “We have to go out and want more than that and not be content with just playing a game in regionals. That’s the problem we have. We will not compete in 2A at this level until we commit to playing at this level. That’s one of the things that we need to do. We need to work on bumping up our schedule, getting rid of some of the 1A and inflicting some 2A.
“I think we can do it. We’ve showed moments. I challenged the seniors that preparation for next year starts tomorrow with club and things like that. I think we have a good group of seniors coming in, very strong. If we’re ever going to make a run, next year’s got to be it.”