WATERMAN — Chawn Huffaker went for a ride on Friday.
After the Mendota boys soccer team downed Earlville-Leland 2-0 to win Friday’s Class 1A Indian Creek Regional, the second-year Trojan coach was lifted off his feet by his team and raised in the air in a celebratory circle.
After three years of trying, it was time to celebrate.
The Trojans had finally taken down their rival.
“I respect these kids so much and they have worked so hard,” said Huffaker, a Mendota resident who assisted E-L under legendary coach Roger Essmann and is a reading teacher at the Earlville Junior High. “In only my second year of being with them, they’ve bought into the kind of system and the kind of soccer that I wanted them to play. This is just a great, great accomplishment.”
After MHS lost to the Red Raiders in the regional final the past two seasons, MHS finally prevailed on Friday to win the program’s first regional since 2003 and only the second regional in program history.
It also ended E-L’s seven-year postseason run in which it won a regional the last five years and qualified for state the two seasons prior to that.
“This really means a lot to us,” MHS junior center midfielder and captain Luis Valdez said. “We haven’t won a regional in 10 years, so having this moment is incredible. The last two years they’ve taken this from us, so it feels good to finally take it from them.”
With the win, MHS (9-11-2) advances to its own Class 1A Mendota Sectional where it will play at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the semifinal against the winner of today’s 11 a.m. Princeton Regional final between Princeton (16-2-5) and Wilmington.
“I think we can compete with anybody. I honestly do,” Huffaker said. “I’m happy it’s at home and playing at home should be a little bit of an advantage.”
On Friday, Mendota dominated from the start and it showed as the Trojans controlled possession throughout and outshot E-L 35-8.
“They have great team speed and they really possessed the ball,” second-year E-L coach Tim Cottingim said. “They are just more advanced from where we are at.”
On Friday, the Red Raiders aided MHS midway through the first half.
Off a Mendota corner kick, E-L’s Jesse Saylor outleaped a crowd for the ball but accidentally headed the ball into his own net to give MHS a 1-0 lead with 14:12 left in the first half.
“That helped us a lot and motivated us,” Valdez said. “If I could thank him, I would thank him. He took the pressure off us and put them down.”
MHS held the lead into the second half when it added insurance midway through.
Off a free kick, the Trojans’ Ivan Pantoja curved a shot around the Red Raider wall toward Omar Bugarin, who headed the ball into the net to give MHS a 2-0 lead with 22:43 left.
“I brought Ivan up from defense to take the kick because I just thought, ‘Ivan needs to take this,’ and Omar is our leading scorer and reads the ball so well,” Huffaker said. “I just had a feeling that it’d work. Ivan delivered a beautiful ball and Omar read it nicely.”
With the loss, the Red Raiders finish the season 8-13-2.
“(The season) didn’t go as well as we wanted it to, obviously,” Cottingim said. “Eight of our starters this year had never played varsity before, so we knew we had an uphill battle, but from where we were at in the summer to where we’re at now, I’m very proud of these guys.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.