GENESEO – For more than 72 minutes, the Dixon and Geneseo boys soccer teams didn’t give each other an inch in Saturday’s championship game of the Class 2A Geneseo Regional.
It took a perfectly executed sequence by the Maple Leafs, along with a slight defensive lapse by the Dukes, to break the ice. The result was a Geneseo goal, and the Maple Leafs went on to a 2-0 victory.
Geneseo (16-4-2) now advances to the Galesburg Sectional, where it will take on either Peoria Richwoods or Peoria Notre Dame on Tuesday. Those squads had their title game in the Richwoods Regional halted due to inclement weather. It will resume on Monday.
Dixon (14-6-2) managed just one shot on goal in the contest, while Geneseo took seven.
“It was a defensive battle,” Dixon coach Josh Brigl said. “We knew we were going to have to defend well, because we knew they were going to defend well.”
Dixon’s defense was spot on for the vast majority of the contest, either clearing the ball away without incident or repeatedly forcing the Maple Leafs to get whistled for offsides.
Finally, with less than 8 minutes to play in regulation, Geneseo was able to break through. A pass from the right corner off the foot of freshman midfielder Connor Nelson found its way to the front of the Dixon goal. It was about 8 feet in the air, and teammate Ethan Holke soared through the air to head it in past the outstretched arms of Dixon goalie Ryan Pitzer.
It was the first goal via header for Holke, a junior forward, the entire season.
“I was just hoping he’d send it in, because he’s a freshman,” Holke said. “He’s really good. He sent it in, I was waiting for the ball to come, and it came right to me. I jumped as high as I could, trying to head it in. When it went in, I was so happy.”
Nelson is the only freshman on the Geneseo varsity squad, and he was thrilled to be part of the game’s key play.
“That pass went just where I wanted it to go,” Nelson said.
Brigl noted when the ball got deep in Dixon territory on that play, it caused some problems for his club.
“Pitzer had come off his line and called for the ball, and we headed it anyway,” Brigl said. “It got us out of position. They ended up winning that ball and possession, and getting it across the box with Pitzer off his line, which led to the goal.”
The best scoring chance for the Dukes came with just under 11 minutes remaining in the second half. A long kick by Graesen Blumhoff found its way to Bradyn Langloss about 20 yards from the Geneseo goal. Langloss gathered the ball in, shook a Maple Leaf defender, and uncorked a low, hard shot toward the left side of the goal.
The ball had some hook on it, however, and went about 3 feet left of the goal. Geneseo goalie Zack Bauer had to make just one save, and that was an easy chance from about 40 yards in the first half.
“We kind of struggled moving the ball up as a team,” Dixon forward Kade Fulton said. “We weren’t really clicking, but we held strong really well on the defensive side.”
For Geneseo coach Harvey Morton, it was a matter of getting a few precious chances, and cashing in on one.
“At halftime we talked about missing some opportunities, but still keeping the pressure on,” Morton said. “I think we did that the entire game. We played well in the back, and got it to the guys up top. We kept pushing until we got one in the net, and that’s all it took.”
Less than a minute after Holke’s goal, the Maple Leafs added some insurance. Jordan Seeley was able to punch one in off Pitzer’s mitts, and Geneseo was up 2-0 with 6:54 remaining.
The Maple Leafs can now look forward to a sectional game on Tuesday, while the Dukes have to settle for a winning season that ended without a regional title for the 15th straight year.
“It was a great season by us,” Fulton said. “We put in so much effort, and it was the first winning season we’ve had since my freshman year. It was a tough way to go out, but I’m glad we played this way throughout the entire season.”