Highlights from Urbana's 1-0 victory over Mt. Hebron to capture the 3A state title on Nov. 17 at Loyola University's Ridley Athletic Complex. (Brent Kennedy / BSMG)
In the middle of the second half of a scoreless 3A state championship game against Mt. Hebron on Thursday evening where quality chances were at a premium, Urbana senior Kyle McQuillen spotted the loose ball a few feet away from him and knew exactly what he had to do.
"Right as it was up in the air, I was like 'I'm not going to lose this ball.' So I kind of did whatever I had to do to get it back," McQuillen said. "[When I got it], the first thing I thought of was to just hit it low and hard across the 6' like coach always tells us."
McQuillen's cross ended up working to perfection, deflecting off a Mt. Hebron defender on the near post and into the back of the net with 19:25 left in regulation for what ended up being the deciding goal in a 1-0 Urbana victory at Loyola University's Ridley Athletic Complex.
The championship is the first for the Hawks' program since 2013 and spoiled Mt. Hebron's bid for its first state championship since 2006.
Mt. Hebron (16-2), which was outshot 8-5 overall, had successfully controlled the number of dangerous offensive opportunities Urbana (19-1) had in the game. Ultimately, though, the Hawks ended up getting the ball in a prime position when it mattered most and things bounced their way.
"That's just the breaks in soccer and anybody who watches or plays soccer knows sometimes that's just what happens," Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. "But to [Urbana's] credit, they had to get behind our back line and whip a ball in. And when that happens, good things happen. I thought our team played very hard and it was pretty evenly matched."
Neither team managed much in the way of offense during the opening stages of the game. In fact, it took more than 15 minutes for either team to attempt a shot.
"I definitely think there were some nerves to start the game, but it was the hype surrounding the game. I mean you are playing in a state final and a lot of people haven't been there," Urbana senior Trent Tarnstrom said. "For the first 10, 15 or 20 minutes it was a lot of feeling each other out and I didn't really feel like either team had a good hold on possession or scoring opportunities."
Both teams began settling in as the first half wore on. Mt. Hebron got its first shot on goal with roughly 15 minutes left before halftime — a header easily stopped by Urbana goalie Riley Barry (2 saves).
Later, with just over five minutes left before intermission, Urbana answered with its best chance of the game up until that point. On a cross from Keneth Morales on the right wing, the ball found Dominick Acierno for a one-touch shot that rocketed off the right post.
"The ball was coming pretty fast, so I didn't think that I would have time for two touches, and I got pretty good contact on it," Acierno said. "It had a lot of curve, a little more than I expected, and I thought it was going to curve right in … but it hit a little bit too much in the center [of the post] and bounced out."
The game ended up going into the half tied 0-0 and it stayed deadlocked through the early stages of the second half as well. Urbana was effectively shutting down the Vikings' bread-and-butter set pieces, while Mt. Hebron was holding the Hawks' high-powered offense — which scored two or more goals in 17 of 20 games this fall — in check.
"Really the theme the whole year has been set plays for us and I think set plays was going to be the determining factor for us win or lose," said Mt. Hebron goalie Torey Jones, who finished with five saves. "We had plenty of opportunities off of throws, corners and free kicks and to their credit, they defended them very well. And I thought we defended them very well as well. I think we defended hard."
Ultimately, though, Urbana stuck to the game plan. The Hawks stayed with their possession-oriented style and began putting more pressure on Mt. Hebron's back line to have to make plays.
"These guys did a fantastic job, especially as the game wore on, of making sure that when we did have possession, that possession ended with some type of goal-scoring opportunity with us in the right positions," Urbana coach Scott Schartner said.
In the end, being in the right position went a long way.
On the deciding score, Mt. Hebron's Johnny Linsenmeyer had initially thwarted things by knocking the ball away from McQuillen off a free kick by Mike Maier. But the ball wasn't cleared and McQuillen stayed with the play to eventually send it into the box.
As fate would have it, the ball ended up glancing off Linsenmeyer's foot and into the net.
Mt. Hebron had a couple chances late to get the equalizer, but Urbana proved to have an answer for everything.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Urbana's players rushed to the far side of the field to celebrate the championship with its fans. For Tarnstrom, who was a key member of the 2013 state championship team as a freshman, he said this title holds a special place.
"This year, for me, even though we lost a game and it's different [than 2013], I think this year is a lot more special … because of the bond I have with these guys," Tarnstrom said. "Back then, I didn't really know the sacrifice and the work that it took to get to a state championship. It was kind of just, that's what we did. I didn't lose a game all year, I didn't lose a game until midway through my sophomore year.
"This year, after three years of wanting to get back, you kind of realize the work and the sacrifice that it takes from each and every guy to get to this point. To be able to do that with all these teammates, is just really special."
On the other side, while disappointed, Mt. Hebron's players did their best to keep things in perspective.
"We couldn't have gotten here without every single person that was on the team. Everybody, whether they got a lot of playing time or not, had an impact on this team," Jones said. "It's a great group of guys and every single person has something to remember the rest of their lives, just the experience was great. It's not an easy thing to do, to make it this far. We really do have a lot to be proud of."