GALESBURG, Ill. — Rock Island and Dunlap went blow-for-blow, but a resilient effort by the Rocky boys’ soccer team fell just short down the stretch.
Dunlap’s Nicholas Cenek scored the winning goal in the closing minutes of the second-seeded Eagles’ 4-3 double overtime win over the top-seeded Rocks in Tuesday's Class 2A Galesburg sectional semifinal.
The loss ended Rocky’s deepest postseason run ever and closed a 15-game unbeaten streak that began in early September. Tuesday night was the first time Rocky (14-2-3) allowed three or more goals all season, but the Rocks and Eagles traded goals all evening until the final buzzer.
Rocky coach Rudy Almanza said his boys fought hard in what turned out to be an excellent match, like he was prepared for. He said there was no lack of focus after Monday’s postponed win, which earned the Rocks their first-ever regional title.
“Just little minor mistakes, that’s what cost us,” Almanza said. “Not really stepping to the ball. We kind of sat back a little bit too much, especially in the final third. But I’m proud of them.”
The Rocks trailed 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2, but tied it each time.
Jordan Rice finished a deflected ball played in by Isaiah Kerr in the 35th minute to get the Rocks on the board. Isaac Almanza came up big twice, with his first goal coming on a free kick into the top corner of the net, 40 yards out in the 50th minute. Almanza then tied it at 3 in the 74th minute, but Rocky had limited opportunities from that point.
Rocky keeper Michael Machuca replaced Ben Samuelson after the third goal. Almanza said it was a difficult decision to switch keepers.
“I felt like I made the right one,” Almanza said of the choice. “Michael came in and did excellent, exactly what I needed him to do. It wasn’t Michael’s mistake whatsoever; it was the defenders not necessarily stepping to the ball,” he said of Dunlap’s winning goal.
The loss is a tough pill to swallow, but winning a first-ever outright Western Big 6 Conference title and regional plaque has raised the bar for future Rocks.
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“What I had told them before the second overtime, was, whatever happens, it’s OK,” Almanza said. “Win or lose, it’s OK. What we’ve done, it’s history. Anything on top of that is just icing on the cake. But I’m so proud of these guys. It’s an awesome group of kids. We’ll be back, though.”
Geneseo falls to PND despite Bauer's big game: Playing the vaunted Irish of Peoria Notre Dame, Geneseo simply struggled to get the offensive looks needed to keep up with the nationally-ranked squad.
PND topped Geneseo 3-0 in the evening game of the Class 2A Galesburg sectional semifinals, holding the Leafs (13-6-1) without a shot on goal. PND (21-1), ranked sixth nationally by TopDrawerSoccer.com, advances to face Dunlap in Friday's final.
Geneseo senior keeper Zack Bauer had 17 saves, including one on a PK from Noah Madrigal, to keep the game close.
"Zack had an amazing game," Geneseo coach Harvey Morton said. "If there’s a better keeper, I’d like to see it. He saved our butt plenty of times tonight."
The Irish dominated possession in the game with Madrigal, an All American forward, scoring one goal and Declan Dillon scoring twice.
“They were quick to feet and pushed us real hard on their offense and got into us real quick,” Morton said. "It was tough to come out offensively against them. They’re just a quality team.”
Geneseo had a free kick chance from about 30 yards around 15 minutes in, but the shot sailed high. Geneseo trailed 2-0 at halftime.
"We got more offensive in the second half, but just couldn't seem to find our rhythm offensively," said Morton. "We just didn't come out defensively and attack the ball like I thought we can. We didn't get our push out of the back, because they were on top of us."
Morton is proud of the positives from this season, including some strong tournament showings, a competitive Big 6 debut and his team winning its first regional title since 2015.
"It was a great season," Morton said. "Great group of guys, great group of seniors, great leadership from the captains. It's just been a good time."