Boys Soccer: Lyons edges Morton to claim Pepsi Showdown

Story Image Lyons' Cristian Sanchez (8) gets past Morton's Abdon Delgado (20) to trap the ball during the Pepsi Showdown at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. on Sunday, September 23, 2012. | Jon Durr~For Sun-Times Media
Story Image

Updated: September 23, 2012 5:08PM

Ben Larson had to improvise. He made the right instinctive move.

The senior Lyons’ defender blasted a free kick from about 25 yards out that deflected off a Morton player and curled inside the near post in the 48th minute that catapulted the No. 4 Lions to a stunning 1-0 victory over previousy unbeaten No. 2 Morton in the championship of the Pepsi Showdown Sunday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

Lyons (11-3-1) upended the 24-game winning streak of the defending Class 3A state champion Mustangs (15-1). They also exacted revenge on two fronts. Lyons avenged their 2-1 overtime loss to Libertyville in last year’s Pepsi finals and the 4-3 double-overtime loss to the Mustangs in the Hinsdale Central sectional semifinals.

Equally impressive, the Lions won after Hinsdale Central snapped their seven-game winning streak Saturday night.

The Lions played through their fatique and broke through with just under nine minutes expired in the second half. After a Morton foul gave the Lions a free kick, Larson cooly stepped up and nailed it.

“Usually I’m just trying to put it off of one of our guys’ heads,” he said. “I scored one other goal on a free kick this year and I just decided to shoot it.”

Morton controlled possesion time and generated more offensive chances. Larson and junior keeper Peter Nolan thwarted the Mustangs’ offensive thrusts. Nolan made two close-range stops in the first half. He also made several risky though successful moves of leaving the box.

Morton coach Mike Caruso was very concerned about the Lions’ ability to score with “set pieces,” throws in, corners or re-starts. “It was a well-struck ball,” he said.

“We were in deep a couple of times in the first half where we didn’t put one away,” Caruso said. “For us this year, we have played a lot of one goal games, in the back of our minds, we knew not getting that one in the first half could come back to bite us.”

The two powerhouse programs have met eight times in the last 15 years in the state tournament. Every single game was decided by one goal. The two bring out the best in each other.

“Last year they ended our season and we were pretty upset about that,” Larson said. “The year before that, we knocked them out. We go back and forth with each other, and we always look forward to playing against them.”

Lyons withstood two Morton free kicks in the final 15 minutes, including one by star Mustangs’ sweeper Joel Leon just outside the box with three minutes to play. “I should have stayed more on top of the ball and hit in ont he ground instead of hitting it over the goal,” Leon said.

Lyons’ coach Paul Labbato played his entire 20-man roster to alleviate the fatigue. The game ended with Nolan blasting away a header as Lyons’ players celebrated. “Right at the end, my assistant coach and I looked at each other just said: ‘Finally.’

“Winning this tournament was a long-time coming. It takes something special to win here. This team was able to defend and get that one goal,” Labbato said.

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