When Brookfield East soccer senior co-captain Peter Tongas headed in fellow co-captain Mark Heydt's prefect crossing pass at the 12:46 mark of the WIAA sectional final against Menomonee Falls Saturday night, coach Herbie Dundun felt almost certain that the Spartans were packing their bags for a quick trip to the state tournament next week.
And that was because of one simple thing.
"Our defense has become much better (since the 1-0 loss to the Indians back in August)," he said. "Our cohesiveness, chemistry and coverage for one another has become so much better than it has been."
"It has given us the defensive blanket that we need."
And that blanket got help from a late security goal from John Orgovan, as the Spartans did indeed earn a state berth with a 2-0 victory in a physical, intense game that left neither coach happy with the officiating.
With the win, the Spartans (21-4 overall) advance to a WIAA state quarterfinal game on Thursday at Uihlein. East was a state semifinalist last season.
Meanwhile, Falls (20-4-2), saw its seven-game winning streak snapped and watched its hopes for a first-ever state tournament berth falter for the third time in the sectional final this century.
The Indians, which had the tieing goal taken away on a controversial offsides call in the 62nd minute, had a hard time cracking that East defensive blanket, occasionally creating pressure, but rarely putting a hard, good shot at Spartan netminder Alex Cagle.
"First of all, let's give credit to Brookfield East, they played a good game," said Indian coach Scott Stein. "I don't think either side played its best game tonight (there were a number of yellow cards in the game), but to take away a goal like that was not right. It was a goal and I think they (the officials) took out of the kids' hands."
But early on, the Spartans took matters into their own hands, as Tongas, who is the Spartans best threat in the air, ran free in from about 35 yards out from the right side and ran smack into Heydt's perfect cross from the deep left.
Falls goalie Cole Morris had no chance on the play.
"Getting that first goal was really important," said Tongas, "because in that first game with them, we felt we had a lot of chances that we didn't take advantage of. We felt we were going to win after that went in."
"I didn't know if Peter was going to be there (when the cross got there)," said Heydt, "but I was hoping that he would be there because if he gets a head on the ball, it's going in."
East had the better run of the play for most of the game on the fast Brookfield Central artificial turf field, but the Falls' defense also stymied some good Spartan opportunities too.
The game got chippy and loud in the second half, with each side of the stands roaring disapproval at the physical play and the calls (or lack thereof) on each side with the coaches chiming in on a regular basis.
"I want you to protect my players, I'm seeing calls out there that I do not like," said Dundun sternly at one point.
Falls's apparent tieing goal came on a deep cross from the far right side where Connor Young apparently finished it in the close left corner only to have it waived off. The Falls staff contended that the angle and depth that Young came from made it impossible for it to be an offsides situation.
"That was terrible," came the roar from the Falls' bench. "Even they (the Spartans) knew it (was a goal)."
Dundun felt it was the right call, noting that his team was on the wrong side of just such a decision in a loss to Marquette earlier this season.
Falls then got hit for a yellow card in the 73rd minute and that led to the insurance goal, as Tongas' free kick bounced off the crossbar and Orgovan put the rebound in from point blank range.
"We fought pretty well," said Indian coach Mike Eastman. "We knew it'd be tough and we had chances (building from the back) that we just should have taken better advantage of. Give credit to East."
Dundun thought his team showed great character, as it won its eighth game in its last nine tries.
"I'm proud of the boys to get this far," he said. "A lot of the guys who were back came in from the bench last year and so to get this far speaks volumes of their effort and commitment."
Heydt is happy to be going back to Uihlein.
"This feels great," he said "Most people don't get a first chance (to go to state) so to get a second chance like this is just amazing."
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