Boys soccer: Crystal Lake South advances to IHSA 2A state finals after overtime win

Gators knock off Timothy Christian thanks to goal from Ali Ahmed

Crystal Lake South's Nico Velasco, (from left to right) Garrett Hess, Nolan Getzinger, and Chris Slawek celebrate defeating Timothy Christian in the IHSA Class 2A Grayslake Central Supersectional soccer match on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at Grayslake Central High School.

GRAYSLAKE – Ali Ahmed found what he had looked for all postseason as he sprinted down the field Tuesday with snow flurries to his left and right.

An opportunity to help his team.

Ahmed scored 23 goals during the regular season but only managed to score once in four matches during the playoffs because of an illness. So when he found a chance to be the hero in Crystal Lake South’s Class 2A Grayslake Central Supersectional match against Timothy Christian on Tuesday, he made the most of it.

Ahmed found his shot in the flurries and smiled as soon as he fired it, scoring in the second overtime period to lead the Gators to a 2-1 win and back to the state finals for the first time since 2019.

“It’s what we play for. It’s what we come here to do,” Ahmed said. “We didn’t come here to leave early. It was great. It’s where we should be.”

Ahmed didn’t remember how he found himself battling two Trojans for the ball, but what happened next is all that mattered for South (20-4-1). He sprinted down the field and saw exactly what he wanted to see: Timothy Christian’s goalkeeper was moving a little right.

Ahmed had scored many goals from that angle and did so again, scoring with 2:34 left.

“Such a sublime touch,” South coach Brian Allen said. “It was a great finish, and he’s been doing that a lot this year.”

South battled in overtime after playing in a match dominated by strong winds and sometimes blinding conditions because of strong snow showers. Players said it was tough to move the ball around the field, comparing it to playing with mounds of dirt on the field.

The Gators wanted to limit the Trojans going against the wind in the first half and did so before finally scoring in the second half. Nolan Getzinger ran to the net on a cross pass from Nico Prus and headed in the ball when it bounced off of Timothy Christian’s goalkeeper’s hands with 23:36 left in the match.

Timothy Christian kept battling until the end and tied the match with 1:26 left in regulation when Hendrik DeVries’ shot made it through to tie the match 1-all. But the Gators regrouped, following the same game plan in overtime that they had during regulation, ultimately winning on Ahmed’s shot.

“The resiliency of not only the elements, but getting a lead, unlucky to give it up late, a lot of teams crumble,” Allen said. “We’ve been in this spot before, this group has a special belief about them that it doesn’t matter if they stay the course and stay consistent, good things will happen.”

Timothy Christian's Trevor Munk tries to head the ball away from Crystal Lake South's Anthony Pupillo during the IHSA Class 2A Grayslake Central Supersectional soccer match on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, at Grayslake Central High School.

Timothy Christian (18-7) coach Joel Zielke was proud of the way his team battled until the very end. Although some plays on the backline ultimately allowed the Gators to win the match, Zielke knew his group wouldn’t give up.

“We have a belief here in this group that is very strong that we can compete with anybody and that it’s not over until it’s over,” Zielke said. “That showed tonight.”

South will play Rochester at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the Class 2A State semifinals at Hoffman Estates. The Gators return to the state finals for the first time since 2019 when they finished runner-up in the Class 2A state championship. They won the 2A state title in 2018.

“It’s what we play for, it’s what we come here to do. We didn’t come here to leave early. It was great. It’s where we should be.”

—  Ali Ahmed, Crystal Lake South forward

After going through a once-in-a-lifetime experience, the Gators don’t plan on changing anything Friday. There might not be a snowstorm Friday afternoon, but South plans to ride its momentum until it wins another state championship.

“Just keep doing what we’re doing,” Getzinger said. “You don’t have to change much. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”