SERENA —There are times in athletic events when each team is looking for a player to make a play that pushes them to victory.
During Wednesday afternoon's Little Ten Conference match here between host Serena and Somonauk, it was Huskers junior Ivan Stafford that did just that.
With the clubs tied at a goal each with under 10 minutes left in regulation, Stafford settled a throw-in from fellow junior Joel Ewing on the left-wing inside the Bobcats' third. He turned and unleashed a shot from 30 yards out that found its way into the top right corner of the goal, giving Serena a 2-1 triumph over their rivals from the north.
The Huskers, now 1-6 overall and 1-1 in the league, snapped a 28-match winless streak, with their previous victory being a 2-0 decision over Hiawatha back on October 4, 2017 in the consolation semifinals of the LTC Tournament. Somonauk fell to 1-8 and 0-2. The squads both finished with 17 overall shots and 12 on target.
"I was trying to find open space on the thrown-in, but once I settled the ball and turned I saw that I had an open shot," said Stafford. "I just tried to hit the ball to the back side into the upper corner and felt I got a good foot on. I didn't really see the flight of the ball because there was a defender in front of me, but when he moved out of the way, I saw it going past the keeper and into the net.
"I was like, 'that's awesome.' "
"There is always room for improvement, but I'm hoping we can build on today and put a winning streak together. We just need to keep playing hard and keep improving each day."
Each team had one good scoring chance in the opening 10 minutes, but Somonauk took the lead with 28 minutes, 28 seconds left when sophomore Aaron Banister flipped a shot toward Serena keeper Ben Shugrue (16 saves). The keeper stopped it, however, the rebound deflected right to senior Noah Gabrys at the doorstep and he banged it in.
"We have a great group of guys, their young in a lot of ways, even the upperclassmen," said Somonauk coach Jonathan Liechty. "The hardest things in sports to do is to win, if everyone knew how to do that every game it would already be figured out. We are still trying to learn how to win a game like today, hold on to a lead late in a game. That comes with time and experience, learning from failures and taking what you learned and using it the next time the situation comes up."
Serena tied the match with 12:56 left on the second-half clock. After a Somonauk handball just outside the top of the penalty box, junior Conner Holdiman blasted a 20-yard shot through the Bobcats' wall and just out of the reach of keeper Josh Creager (15 saves).
"I don't want to dwell on last year, but we were down in the hole so often in games early," said Serena coach Dean DeRango. "This year this was our fifth one-goal game, so we've been in games, but just hadn't been able to win them. We have to learn how to win and how to handle situations like we had the final nine minutes, but this was a nice step in the right direction for us."
The Huskers were able to hold on for the final minutes and finally put the winning dry spell in the rear view mirror.
"It stinks to lose, but I couldn't be prouder of the guys efforts, playing hard the entire game on a hot day," said Liechty. "Sometimes all it takes is for a special player to make a special play and Serena had that hero today."