When Grant Park first opened the 2021 men’s football season, the Dragons had one major goal in mind: to end up in a regional playoff title game.
On Tuesday night, about two months later, the Dragons managed to tick that goal off their list with a dominant 8-1 win over Herscher in the IHSA Class 1A Regional Semi-Final game on neutral ground. in Coal City.
Dragons coach Mark Boccia said with his team being so close to their goal, there was no need to motivate his team as they were already hungry enough to take matters into their own hands.
âAt this point in the season, I don’t need a lot of motivation for my guys,â said Boccia. âThey were ready to come here from the bus ride, and they were amplified, ready to go. The second the ball came into play, they were in business. “
Grant Park got things going right away, scoring in the first minute of action, when Nolan Schneider joined Ayden Delaney on a long throw-in, giving Delaney his first of an incredible seven goals on a header. Just five minutes later, the Dragons repeated the exact same Schneider connection to Delaney, which gave Grant Park a 2-0 lead.
“I think we caught Herscher off guard early on with our throw-ins,” said Boccia. “I don’t think they realized how far Schneider could throw the ball, but it was basically like a set piece, and luckily for us Delaney capitalized on two early goals.”
The Dragons then added a third goal when Rylan Heldt assisted Delaney for his third with 10 minutes remaining in the first half, giving Grant Park a 3-0 lead they would take at halftime.
âWe’ve been playing together for years, so the chemistry of our team is the most important thing,â said Delaney. “We know where we’re going to be on the pitch and be able to put the ball in places to put it in the back of the net.”
The second half looked a lot like the first half, as Delaney scored four more scores in the final 40 minutes of action. He scored his fourth goal three minutes into the second half before Herscher was finally put on the scoreboard with a goal from senior Trey Schwarzkopf from a penalty which reduced the Dragons’ lead to 4- 1 with 29 minutes to go in the second half.
Just three minutes later, Grant Park responded with another goal with Heldt finding the back of the net on another superb pass from Schneider. With a 5-1 lead at 26 minutes to go, Delaney managed to score three more goals at 66, 67 and 74 minutes.
“It was really good to score seven goals today,” said Delaney. âI have some really good teammates to fight against so I won’t take all the credit for myself.
“I was only able to finish the game after my teammates prepared me perfectly.”
The seven-goal win over the Tigers not only helped Grant Park improve their 11-game winning streak, but also put them in the regional title game, in which they will face the winner of today’s fixture. hui between Coal City and Manteno at 11 a.m. on Saturday. for the championship in Coal City.
âIt’s good to score eight goals, but I feel like we just played strong defense from start to finish,â said Boccia.
As for Herscher, his season ended with an overall record of 10-10-2. The Tigers were missing their key sweeper at Keegan Elliot against the Dragons, forcing the team to move multiple players to different positions.
“I thought the boys were tough, and they chased him in the second half,” Tigers coach Alan High said. âIt would have been our eighth consecutive Sweet Sixteen appearance if we had won, so it’s been a great race, and it’s not one that’s going to end. It’s just the one that’s kind of a red flag.
Delaney scored seven goals to lead Grant Park. Schneider added five assists and Heldt totaled one goal and one assist. Goalkeeper Luke Horn made five saves behind the net.
Tucker White led Herscher with 14 saves. Schwarzkopf scored the Tigers’ only goal from a penalty in the second half.