ARGOS — They say there’s no shame in losing a tough battle, but there’s really no comfort in moral victories either. The #11 (2A) boys from NorthWood had a chance to pull off a historic two-win day on Saturday as they were given an opportunity that has seldom, if ever, been presented to any school — beating two defending state champions in one day.
The scene was artfully set up by the tournament host for a championship game between current #4 (3A) Zionsville and #1 (1A) Argos. Both programs were crowned state champions in their respective classes last Nov. 2. In fact, Zionsville completed their 2019 season undefeated at 21-0.
Argos gave themselves a not-so-subtle advantage in preparation for the perhaps expected showdown between two of the three 2019 championship trophy-hoisting teams by scheduling a matchup in the first game of the afternoon with local foe Rochester. The Dragons easily dispatched the Zebras 7-0 and gave themselves several hours to recover and prepare for the tournament’s championship game, which was scheduled for 8 p.m.
They then threw the Eagles and Panthers into the blender and waited to see which would emerge. Most in the crowd, probably even a few wearing NorthWood’s red and black, anticipated that the team that hails from the northwest part of the metro Indianapolis area and sports a student body north of 2,200 kids would come out victorious.
NorthWood Boys 2, Zionsville 1
But never tell Panther head coach Brad Duerksen the odds. His boys strapped up for the second preliminary match of the afternoon and took down the high-flying Eagles 2-1 in a physically exhausting, mentally sapping and emotionally draining contest.
NorthWood grabbed an early lead on a free kick by Panther goal-scoring machine Andre DeFreitas, sending a shockwave through the cheering section of the Eagle faithful. It was followed up with eight minutes left in the first stanza by Sebastian Guillen, who took a smooth back foot touch assist from DeFreitas that set up right in front of the Zionsville keeper to find the net. The game would go to intermission with a unpredicted 2-0 Panther lead.
Things got pretty physical in the second half as Zionsville felt the mounting urgency to get on the scoreboard, understanding the old adage that you had to get one before you could get two. They finally did get their first tally in the 74th minute of the match following frantic string of events. The final six minutes left the NorthWood fans, and undoubtedly the team bench, with elevated blood pressure levels as the ball remained on the Eagle attacking half of the pitch as the team in green brought their defenders forward in a desperate attempt to find the equalizer. In fact, it seemed almost inevitable that fate would lead the contest into extra time.
When the final whistle finally was blown, the proverbial weight was lifted with the Panthers and their fans raising their collective hands and voices in a victory celebration.
Argos Boys 4, NorthWood 1
The Panthers had a little more than three hours to recover before taking on another belt holder, this time against the host Dragons. By the time the opening whistle signaled the start of the game, the weather had turned from a drizzle to a downpour, leaving the field, the ball and everyone in attendance feeling like they were in a cool, never-ending shower.
It was very clear from the very beginning that the boys from Argos were much more rested than their opponents. NorthWood’s passing was less than ideal and the relentless attack that has become the Panthers’ trademark style was obviously absent.
The host side was the first to get onto the scoreboard to take an early advantage, punching the ball past an indecisive Andrew Graber who was caught between attacking the play and staying back to take his chances with a stopping a shot from inside the 18.. The result wasn’t good for Graber, as he found himself lying on the ground while the ball easily rolled between the pipes.
The Panthers did find the early equalizer in the 17th minute on an amazing play that left everyone in awe. After a penalty was called on the Dragons on their offensive side of the midfield line, senior Panther defender Nick Lechlitner took the free kick and launched it perfectly to within 10 feet of the Argos goal, DeFreitas, with his back to the net, executed a perfect backwards bicycle kick to redirect the ball past the shocked Dragon goalkeeper.
Not soon afterward though, Argos managed to push the ball into to Panther net on a play eerily similar to their first one in the half. With it, the Dragons took a 2-1 advantage into the break.
In the second half, the Panthers moved the ball much better than they did in the first, but it was evident that they had simply ran out of gas. Their scoring oopportunities were few and far between as they couldn’t get the ball in good attacking positions Meanwhile, Argos was able to use their energy advantage to get the ball past Graber two more times before the clock hit zero.
Argos regained the tournament trophy, which was taken home last year by the Panthers who defeated the Dragons in the 2019 championship game.
The Panthers ended the day sitting on a 5-2-1 record. They only have a couple of days to rest before they return to the pitch for an NLC tilt at home against Warsaw.