By James Kay
They needed eight rounds of penalty kicks, but Lyons Township High School (8-3-2, 3-0) earned its first win at Oak Park and River Forest's stadium since 2013 when they beat the Huskies (9-3-2, 3-1) on Oct. 1.
The contentious match between the two conference opponents, which was tied 1-1 after regulation, and OPRF's student section had the Lions fired up after the match.
"We don't win here," said LTHS head coach Paul Labbato. "They bring a gigantic crowd and they are pretty … amazing. The administration probably doesn't love it, but our kids love getting yelled at and it fires you up. They were saying, 'Hey keep the fans down there for the PKs' and I was like, 'No, bring them down there! Our kids want them there.'"
One of the plays that would swing the match occurred 45 seconds into the first half when LTHS pushed the ball into the box. Three OPRF players swarmed the ball, and it ended up spinning into the Huskies goal.
Both teams' coaches and players were confused after the game of how the ball ended up out of reach of the defense, but it appeared it hit one of OPRF's players and bounced into the net.
The Huskies didn't waste any time evening the score. Throughout the first half, the Lions didn't apply pressure on the OPRF offense. According to Labbato, they wanted to force the Huskies to make mistakes by allowing OPRF to push forward.
The Huskies, however, took advantage of this strategy at the 30:53 mark. OPRF's Ben Ryan shook off two defenders close to midfield, weaved through the defense deep into the LTHS box, and snuck a pass to teammate Zeke Rivera who finished off the possession with a missile in the right corner of the goal. Neither team found the net for the rest of the first half.
In the second half, both teams started playing more physical, and didn't allow one another to get clean looks. This carried through to both periods of extra time, where the intra-conference foes didn't give an inch to each other. After going toe-to-toe for 100 minutes of action, the match had to be decided from the penalty spot.
Lions would make its first PK, which was followed by OPRF sailing its first attempt over the right top corner of the goal. Both teams exchanged made goals until LTHS had a chance to put the match away holding a 4-3 advantage.
The momentum shifted in favor of OPRF when Lions' forward Luis Torres missed the game-ending shot. The Huskies scored on their next attempt to force another set of PKs. LTHS would prevail in the end, after two misses by OPRF sealed the intra-conference match.
After the final miss, Lions players ran over to OPRF's student section and gestured "L's" with their hands. As they ran back towards midfield, one LTHS player yelled, "This is our house now!"
As much as the Lions battled the Huskies on the field, they also had to overcome a student section that was riding LTHS throughout the match.
"Our coach was saying that these benches are normally on the other side, so we are kind of lucky that they moved them over, because the fans would come behind our bench and chirp us the whole game," said LTHS captain Jake Fraser.
When asked about the players' gestures towards the student section, Labbato said, "I have no idea. Hopefully, that was for 'LT.' Hopefully, someone on our team was holding up a 'T.' The 'T's' were over on the bench."
When asked about how his team would respond to the loss, OPRF's head coach, Jason Fried, tried to stay positive.
"I just told them that it's a tough loss, but the goal is about being the best we can be by the playoffs," said Fried. "We take this as a bump knowing we can make a massive run."