MOLINE — The Princeton coaches didn’t have to remind the Tiger soccer team what was at stake Saturday afternoon, but they gave them a little reminder anyway.
Before they loaded up the team bus to head to Moline for Saturday’s regional finals, they made a quick stop at Prouty Gymnasium to take a look at the soccer championship placards on the wall. There was room for many more, the coaches said.
“We showed them ‘08 was the only other one we have. Now they can put another up there,” said PHS assistant coach Rod Jaggers, after the Tigers’ 3-1 win over Rock Island Alleman Saturday, who was serving as acting head coach for Jason Bird. “Whenever they go back into that gym, they’ll see another one up with 2012, and they can be proud of it. Now we want to go on to win a sectional championship. We have a pretty good program here.”
The Tigers (16-8) took a 2-0 halftime lead and got another goal late in the second half on a direct kick by senior defender Austen Stewart to send them into sectional semifinal play at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday against Hinckley-Big Rock (19-4-1).
“It’s good after three years coming so close and having it slip away it seemed like. Us seniors knew what was at stake and the juniors and sophomores really helped contribute to it,” Stewart said.
“It’s been a long-time coming. Sad coach Bird wasn’t here to celebrate with us. We just won, that’s all that matters,” said senior keeper Nolan Piper, adding the regional championship meant absolutely everything to him. “I couldn’t ask for any more. These guys played their hearts out. Definitely in the second half, played their hearts out. That’s all you can ask, and we came out on top.”
Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Stewart gave the Tigers much more breathing room with his direct kick that sneaked past the Alleman keeper. It was his very first goal on a direct kick.
“Raider (Keenan) was originally supposed to kick. I don’t know who called Raider off, coach Jaggers or coach Gray,” Stewart said. “I was trying to get it to the PK line and somebody get a header on it. It just went a little far, it’s wet, and I guess it just slipped through the keeper’s legs. I don’t know, I didn’t see it, I just saw the ball in the back of the net.”
Jaggers said it was a little strategy to make the switch from Keenan to Stewart to help burn some time off the clock.
“First we had Raider Keenan over the ball. In that situation, you can keep the clock running, so we called Raider off taking the direct kick putting Austen Stewart, and he can do it just as capable as well,” Jaggers said.
And Stewart put it right where they asked him to.
“We asked the guys before the game, put the ball on frame because the field conditions can make the goalie slip and make a bad a play, and that’s kind of what happened,” Jaggers said. “He tried to make a play, I think he slipped on his feet and lost track of the ball.”
Junior midfielder Jacob Estrada, who scored the winning goal in overtime in the regional semifinal win over DePue, got the Tigers on the board with a goal at the 35:14 mark with an assist from Brody Hunt.
Junior forward Dylan Schaefer gave the Tiger a 2-0 lead at the half with a score at 26:35. Jaggers said it took some time for the Tigers to navigate through Alleman’s aggressive midfield play.
“We took our opportunities, got it down there and put some balls in the goal,” he said. “We stepped up and played pretty good defense under those field conditions and our goalies did an excellent job.”
Tiger tales: Bird was attending the wedding of his eldest son, Ryne, a former Tiger standout, on Saturday, in Princeton. The coach’s inbox filled up quickly, but he said PHS soph Starr Mecum was the first to relay the good news. “I told him since he was injured and couldn’t play, his job was to keep me posted on the game,” Bird said. ... HBR (19-4) won the regional championship at Aurora, upsetting top-seeded Somonauk for the second straight year. The Tigers beat the Purple Royals 1-0 this season. ... Some PHS players tried to catch Gray with the old water bucket treatment, but the assistant coach showed he still had some nimble feet from his playing days for the Tigers.