MENDOTA — Gray clouds and rain showers refused to let the sun shine on Mendota’s turf on Wednesday for a non-conference boys soccer match between Earlville and Mendota.
Mother Nature wasn’t the only one being stingy as the Trojans were defiant around the goal and stopped all but one Earlville attempt for a 3-1 MHS victory.
“We were pumped up because we haven’t beaten them in the last four games and we really wanted it,” MHS senior Ivan Figueroa said. “I hadn’t beaten them in high school yet. This is the first time we’ve beaten them and we all wanted it because of the big rivalry. A lot of their players are from our club team, so we’re close to them and we know them.
“They’re all good players. It was intense and we knew we had to push it the whole game. Although it’s not a conference game and we’re not in the playoffs yet, they’re someone important to beat.”
MHS (12-3-1) found the back of the net first when Figueroa scored at the 25:36 mark on a penalty kick. Figueroa’s goal was the lone score of the first half as Mendota took a 1-0 lead into halftime.
Earlville (13-2) was the first to turn the lights on the scoreboard in the second half when senior Logan Wesson scored at 47:58 to knot the score at 1-1.
The Red Raiders had a game plan and for the most part, it worked. However, when there was an error, the Trojans took advantage.
“We knew that straight up the middle of the field — center (defense), center mid and their forwards — were all very good,” EHS coach Larry Heiden said. “We wanted to keep it wide and keep it away from their four real good players in the middle of the field. We did well in the second half, but you make two mistakes against a team like that and they’re going to finish. That’s exactly what happened.”
Sophomore Yahir Diaz scored a goal for the Trojans 35 seconds after Wesson’s goal and senior Emiliano Arteaga punched in a rebound at 57:41 for the last goal of the game.
“They’ve been talking about it since I took over in June,” said MHS coach Nick Myers, who is a former EHS athletic director who was also Heiden’s assistant coach. “Earlville won the last four games and five if you want to count our scrimmage in the summer. Plus, they knocked Mendota out of the sectional championship last year. The boys have wanted this for a long time and it was circled immediately on our calendar.
“Coming into it with the weather conditions — I didn’t know how that was going to go — but tons of credit to my guys. They played through it.”
Mendota sophomore goalkeeper Yanni Karahalios had eight saves against Earlville.
The underclassmen have been a huge factor for Mendota this season as the Trojans are 7-0 in the Big Northern Conference with one Winnebago match away from a conference title.
“Yanni stepped up huge for us. Obviously, when the weather is like this — when it’s raining and the turf is wet — the ball is skipping and it’s tough for keepers all over the place,” Myers said. “Earlville’s keeper (Michael Sansone) shanked one and Emiliano was able to crash (the goal zone) and put it in.
“Yanni has stepped up in every big game for us this year. Against Dixon he had save after save. Tonight, (Earlville’s Landon) Larkin had a nice shot and Yanni saved it. He had a couple saves where if he doesn’t actually catch the ball and just blocks it, they were right there to punch it in. Yanni stepped up big for us. This was a big game for him.”
Both teams have a little more than a week to polish their game before the postseason begins.
No. 1-seeded Earlville starts the Class 1A Serena Regional at 4 p.m. Oct. 15 in a semifinal against either No. 7 Serena or No. 9 Somonauk, while No. 2 Mendota faces either No. 8 Riverdale or No. 10 Princeton in a Class 1A Mendota Regional semifinal at 6 p.m. Oct. 16.
“I feel like this may be a good thing. We’ve been making mistakes in games that we’re getting away with,” Heiden said. “Today, we didn’t get away with them. We made mistakes on defense and they scored. Offensively, we were creating opportunities to score and we couldn’t find the back of the net.
“I’m kind of hoping, especially with us going into the postseason soon, that we’ll learn from this. They played hard. We’ve played worse and won this season. Sometimes you play hard and get a loss.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.