Making his way toward the left sideline for a corner kick midway through the first overtime period of Thursday’s 3A state championship game, Reservoir’s Emilio Rodas started getting the feeling.
Having already initiated each of the Gators’ two goals during regulation against Urbana off set pieces, Rodas says he knew they had the Hawks right where they wanted them.
“I told the guys right when we came in, right before overtime, ‘Give me one chance, one set piece, and I’ll give you guys a chance,’ ” said Rodas, the team’s specialist on corners and free kicks.
True to his word, the Gators’ junior played a perfect ball over to the far post and onto the waiting head of Mike Peprah, who finished home the deciding goal in a 3-2 victory.
“Every time Emilio gets it, I communicate with him before he gets there to see me back post,” Peprah said. “I kind of dragged my man way out far, so as soon as the ball came I sprinted down and it was right on my head.”
As the ball hit the net, Reservoir (13-6) immediately stormed the field and began celebrating the program’s second state championship in the last three years. The first one came in 2010, during the Gators’ first trip to the state final four.
For Reg Hahne, in his first year as Reservoir head coach, the overtime strike was a perfect capper to a magical run through the playoffs that included four one-goal victories.
“It’s a been long season, a tough season … an interesting season to say the least. But to be where we are at the moment is absolutely magnificent and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Hahne said.
Urbana (17-1-1) was actually the aggressor in the early going.
The Hawks generated four shots in the first 10 minutes and that pressure is what ultimately led to the free kick that produced the team’s first goal. Awarded a kick at the top of the box, Austin Thames decided to quick-kick the ball into the wide-open goal as the Reservoir defense was setting up.
“That was actually my first (quick-kick goal),” Thames said. “I saw that the goalie was fixing his wall and I didn’t ask for 10 (yards), so I just saw the open net and took a shot.”
Despite the deficit, though, Reservoir seemed motivated by the mistake.
Utilizing their speed up top, the Gators outshot Urbana 6-2 over the final 25 minutes of the half and forced Hawks’ goalie Brian Howell to make four of his game-high eight saves during that stretch.
“In those last 10 minutes of the first half, I thought we really played our best soccer of the year,” Hahne said. “We were coming back strong.”
And, although it didn’t pay immediate dividends on the scoreboard, Reservoir capitalized on the shift in momentum immediately after the break.
Getting a free kick just outside the left side of the box in the 42nd minute, the Gators’ Rodas struck a hard shot that Howell punched off the left post. The rebound caromed across the goal line and Javier Wardcantrori was there to kick it home and tie the game, 1-1.
“When we got that goal, we realized we could really win this,” Wardcantrori said. “They left me unmarked on the back post and I just snuck in after it hit the post and I was wide open.”
Continuing to pressure, Reservoir got its second goal in practically the same fashion. Another free kick by Rodas, this time from the right side midway through the second half, found the head of Kyle Saunderson on the far post. He directed it across the goal line to Carvell Akuffo, who was waiting to convert the go-ahead score.
“Their services were on all night,” Urbana coach Scott Schartner said. “(The services) were always in the second six and when you have guys that attack the ball that well and are that big, good things are going to happen.”
Urbana, however, proved to still have plenty of fight left.
After a big stop by Reservoir goalie Braulio Linares (6 saves) with 10 minutes left in regulation, Urbana ended up getting the equalizer three minutes later. Brett LaBonte converted a header off a cross from Jonathan Kordell to knot the game at 2-2.
Neither team scored in the final minutes of regulation or first few minutes of overtime, creating the golden goal moment where Reservoir was able to go back to its bread and butter.
“We had the height advantage and we’ve been working on them all year. We’ve scored a lot from our set plays,” Hahne said. “I thought that last goal was just a brilliant, brilliant goal from Emilio to Mike.
“We’ve scored a few goals like that, we beat Centennial (in the playoffs) the same way.”