HINCKLEY — As improbable as it was, the Newark-Seneca soccer team certainly pulled off somewhat of a Houdini magic act during Tuesday night's IHSA Hinckley-Big Rock Class 1A Regional semifinal contest with the host Royals.
With the game tied 3-3, the Norsemen received their second red card of the second half and had to play the last 8 minutes, 25 seconds of the final stanza down two players due to the pair of on-field infractions.
But No. 3-seeded Newark kept its composure from there and pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat to score a goal with under two minutes to play and secured a scintillating and unlikely 4-3 victory over the No. 5-seeded Royals here in Hinckley.
Junior Jacob Chapman combined with junior Steve Bartkus to be the heroes, as Chapman threaded the needle through a gap in the H-BR wall on a free kick from 25 yards out that found the foot of Bartkus, who popped in a shot high-right into the Royals net with 1:47 to go in the contest that completed the beautiful game-winning set-piece and the remarkable shorthanded triumph for the locals.
"I saw an opening, and I knew all I had to do was make a nice touch on the ball, and it went to Steve," Chapman said. "They were guessing I was going to try to score but I saw that chance. I thought we had a better opportunity to get a goal with the pass than a shot from me, and it couldn't have worked out better."
"My guy bodied me up, but I got right through him," Bartkus said. "Jacob gave me an incredible pass, and we couldn't have drawn it up any better for a game-winning goal being so short-handed."
All the late match excitement came after a defensive minded first half where the Royals owned a 1-0 lead at halftime on an unassisted goal at the 10:42 mark by junior Remy Lynch.
Newark-Seneca (14-3-1) countered with three straight goals early throughout a goal frenzied second half. The Norsemen knotted the score at 1-1 when senior Connor Swanson tallied his 20th marker of the season unassisted low-left past H-BR keeper Hunter Swanson at 36:27 from 10-yards away.
"It was as close to the corner of the net as I could ever get it and the best shot I had. I think it hit the post and went in," Connor Swanson said. "After that we just kept the pressure on."
Shortly thereafter, junior Shane Cameron tallied in the middle 15-yards out after assists from Swanson and Chapman at 32:06 to put the Norsemen up 2-1.
Then N-S lost its first player to a red card at 31:42, but another goal would follow at 20:36 as sophomore Miguel Gonzalez converted a beautiful cross from sophomore Carson Collet to put the Norsemen up 3-1.
H-BR (11-11) was undeterred and put the pressure on with the one-man advantage to score at 17:39 on an unassisted goal by junior Avery King and then another from senior Tate Sanderson when he beat N-S keeper Silas Odom with a beautiful laser beam into the top left corner of the net from 25-yards away at 9:29 that tied things up at 3-3.
Just over 90 seconds later the Norsemen received their second red card of the night and the Royals possessed an immense advantage with the game seemingly in their grasp up 11 players to nine.
"We were up two guys and we just didn't take advantage of that," said H-BR veteran coach Brad Phillips. "We were up one guy for most of the second half and we rallied to tie things up. But after that we just couldn't get things done in regulation and it was unfortunate we had to lose this way."
All that was left was after the late deadlock was the heroics of Chapman and Bartkus that salted away a magical win with the regional championship game looming against No. 2 Earlville-Leland-Paw Paw Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. back at H-BR.
"We went down to 10 players then down to nine and we could've responded by giving up," said NHS coach Jane Crowe. "But I'm so proud of the last nine for not letting up and winning the game in regulation where we knew overtime would've been tough for us down two players. Now we'll have to step up Friday against a very tough team without two starters due to the red cards. Hopefully we can rise to the occasion again."