Sam Knapke isn’t Benet’s first scoring option, or its second or third, for that matter.
But the Redwings needed the junior midfielder to step up Saturday and he did just that. Knapke scored on a 15-yard shot with 2:51 left in the first half and that proved to be enough to lift Benet to a 1-0 victory over host Downers Grove South in a Class 3A regional final.
It was the first game-winning goal of Knapke’s career and it gave the Redwings (18-3-1) their first regional championship since 2007. Third-seeded Benet will take on No. 10 seed Fenwick, which upset Lyons 2-1 on penalty kicks, in Tuesday’s Argo Sectional semifinals.
“It feels great,” said Knapke, who has four goals this fall. “It was a total team effort. Everyone worked hard. We had to overcome a lot to get here, so overall it’s a great win and it feels great to be regional champs.”
Brad Bozych got the assist on the goal, sliding a pass to his left to Knapke, who fired a right-footed shot into the lower left corner of the net past diving Downers South goalie Nick Tannenbaum. It was one of the few open shots either team had in the match.
“Joey Chiarello worked really hard in the corner to win us a long throw-in and we battled really hard for it in the box,” Knapke said. “It came to Brad, he had a great lay-off to me [and I] put it in the left side of the goal.”
It was a rare starring moment for Knapke, whose job is to control the midfield and create scoring opportunities.
“He hasn’t been a guy that we’ve relied on to score goals this year, but at the same time we never take him off the pitch,” Benet coach Sean Wesley said. “He’s always on. He’s our holding midfielder who kind of sits in that gap for us and you see how many balls he wins in the course of a game and the composure that he has on the ball.
“I think everybody feels confidence in Sam that if he’s in the box and he gets a chance he’s going to be able to put it away. We don’t normally need it from him, but we did today and obviously he took care of it, so happy for him.”
Aside from that goal, the defenses reigned. Benet had one other chance to score when Bozych chipped a shot over Tannenbaum with 17:40 left in the second half, but Downers South defender Ryan Koniecko volleyed the ball off the goal line.
Downers South (12-9-1) had only one threat, that coming on a 62-yard free kick by Tannenbaum with 21:50 remaining, but Eric Diaz shanked a five-yard shot wide to the left.
The Mustangs managed only four shots against Benet’s back line led by James Colletti, Robert Tomecek and Michael Bloudin. Goalie Kyle Dal Santo wasn’t tested, making just two easy saves in
recording his 10th shutout.
“We have a great defense so I knew we weren’t going to let one in, so I was pretty confident,” Knapke said. “Our defense is so solid; I think we can win with one-goal leads all the time.”
Wesley, who will miss Tuesday’s match after receiving a red card with 12:50 left in the second half, was thrilled with the win.
“That first 40 minutes was by far the best we’ve played all year,” he said. “We knew we had it in us. I thought we deserved the goal, we deserved the result.”