After coming from behind in two previous Class 3A state playoff victories, senior Haris Sarajlija and his Lyons Township High School boys soccer teammates needed another to win Tuesday’s Morton Super-Sectional against Stagg.
How about three?
“I can’t really describe it either. I’m on top of the world right now,” Sarajlija said.
Throw in bone-chilling temperatures and occasional periods of wind-driven snow, yet the Lions continued their incredible run to the state semifinals.
They won 4-3 by prevailing 8-7 in eight rounds of penalty kicks after two 10-minute overtime periods.
The Lions (19-6-2) meet Naperville North (22-1-3) in Friday’s 6 p.m. semifinal at Hoffman Estates High School. They play Saturday for the state championship at 6:30 p.m. or third place at 10:30 a.m.
This is the Lions’ first state trip since their 2009 state championship. LTHS beat Stagg 1-0 Sept. 7 on a goal by Sarajlija but the Chargers (18-4-1) entered Tuesday on a 14-game winning streak.
“Most of the times in the game, we went down, we came back. We never gave up,” said Sarajlija, a Brookfield resident.
“I remember last year when we got scored on, I could see it everyone’s face. No one gave up today. When we got scored on in overtime, everyone was like, ‘Oh, we have 18 minutes (to tie). We can do this.’ The motivation’s there. Everyone’s playing for each other and I’m very proud of everyone.”
Both overtime periods are played in full. Stagg struck just 1:15 into the first but amid a snowy stretch, senior defender Mason Santos created a 3-3 tie on his second goal of the game with 46 seconds left in the first overtime. Santos one-timed Sarajlija’s free kick from 50 yards out redirected to the right side of the crease by senior Collin Sullivan.
Even more dramatic, Suda forced overtime on his goal with just 1:11 left in regulation off one of Sullivan’s dangerous sidelines throw-ins. Santos tied the game with 37:32 remaining but the Chargers moved ahead 2-1 with 25:09 to go.
“That was one of the most magical games I’ve ever played in,” Suda said. “We were down, came back. Down, came back. The fact it went into penalties was unreal. We were so close to getting knocked out and then so far from being knocked out.”
For penalty kicks, the Lions replaced senior starter Tyler Balon with senior reserve Seth Ahlm.
“It had been talked about the last two weeks. They told me when we went to overtime, just be ready, get warmed up, so I just had to lock in from there,” Ahlm said.
The Lions, who shot first, got conversions in the mandatory round of five shooters from Suda, Sullivan, Sarajlija, Declan Kracker and Jimmy Brejcha. In sudden-death rounds, Danny Svelnis, Mason Burda and finally Ian Farris converted.
The game ended when Ahlm dove to his left and stopped the Chargers’ eighth attempt.
“I don’t even remember (the save). It was awesome. I thank the whole team for at least giving me the chance to do that,” Ahlm said.
“I knew I was coming in and I’d been preparing for this, honestly, the whole year. I was hyped. I was excited. The adrenaline took me and here we are.”
Winning on penalty kicks especially was sweet considering LTHS lost to rival Hinsdale Central on penalty kicks Sept. 27. Sullivan was injured that game and did not return until the state tournament.
The Lions beat Morton 4-2 in the sectional semifinals and Downers Grove North 5-1 in the regional final after trailing by one goal in both.
“To come back over and over and see their faces and how well they played (against Stagg was great). And to go to PKs (and win). And Seth coming in off the bench,” LTHS coach Paul Labbato said.
“We were down all the way so hat’s off to this group. The weather’s terrible and they just kept their heads up and kept working hard. You need a little bit of luck and this group manufactures their luck also.”
Suda (team-high 15 goals, 4 assists), Sarajlja (14 goals, team-high 9 assists) and Kracker (5 goals, 5 assists) are this season’s leading scorers.
Naperville North is undefeated since losing the season opener. The Huskies have 15 shutouts and allowed just two postseason goals and as many as two goals only twice in victories. New Trier (21-1-2) and Glenbrook North (21-3-2) are the other semifinalists.