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St. Charles North

St. Charles North boys lacrosse tracks down East to retain Cup

St. Charles East's Brandon Huff tries to avoid St. Charles North's Eric Koppang in the Crosstown Classic match Saturday at Geneva High School.
St. Charles East's Brandon Huff tries to avoid St. Charles North's Eric Koppang in the Crosstown Classic match Saturday at Geneva High School.

GENEVA – Exhale, attack, exhale.

St. Charles North followed that tack and then some Saturday to retain the boys lacrosse crosstown cup trophy against St. Charles East.

Down five goals at halftime and ahead by that many in the final quarter, the North Stars at last broke into a "We St. Charles..." chant after holding on to win, 14-13, in the regular-season finale at Geneva's Burgess Field.

"This game really didn't count toward our season. It was just for fun. So, I mean, we just kind of looked to our left, looked to our right and we're like, 'We're doing it for our seniors. This is their last time they're going to play East,' " North Stars junior attackman Eric Koppang said. "And we really came together as a team more than any game we played before it."

East surged to a 9-4 lead at halftime as Brett Hickey scored with just less than 10 seconds to play. The Saints didn't score again until 4:36 remained in the game.

Lacrosse blends a variety of sports, but North's 10-0 run in the third and fourth quarters was a backbreaker by any name.

"Every one of us is proud of the way we played for three quarters, but third quarter, you can't let it happen like that," said Saints sophomore attackman Jack Russell, who scored a game-high five goals. "We've got to make adjustments on the fly next time."

Assuring a "this time" was temporarily in limbo. The game, originally set for East's Norris Stadium Friday night, was postponed due to inclement weather, and next week's IHSLA postseason only tightened the rescheduling window.

Neutral site aside, the one-goal margin of victory marked the tightest in the three crosstown games since the former St. Charles boys co-op split entering the 2012 season. North won by 10 last season and four a year earlier.

"Oh, yeah, this was about as amped up as the series has been yet," Saints coach Chris Conner said.

No argument from North junior defender Matt Balara, a Philadelphia native who moved from New Jersey last year.

Both locales traditionally have banged a louder drum for lacrosse, which steadily is working to gain enough schools for sanctioning as an IHSA sport.

"It's growing, for sure," Balara said. "I mean, East Coast, yeah, there's millions of schools out there that are all high-level lacrosse, but out here, it's getting like a hotbed. I love it."

A pregame ceremony highlighting the seniors from both teams along with the St. Charles girls co-op girls included narration of players' biggest influences and greatest lacrosse memories.

Many Saints and North Stars hailed their parents' willingness to drive carpools and their older siblings for turning their attention to the sport. They remembered spring trips – both the long bus rides there and back and the epic video game sessions in between – but some recollections still were forward-thinking.

The testimonial for Saints senior defender Aaron Clapper stated his favorite lacrosse memory had yet to occur; it would only be in the bag once East defeated North Saturday.

Almost got it. ...

"Come back Monday, pick our heads up, get back to work," Russell said. "These seniors want to go out on a high note, make a deep run in the playoffs."

Naturally, players from both sides of town envisioned a victory at Norris upon seeing the schedule before the season.

Friday's weather sent St. Charles Lacrosse Club board members scrambling to their phone trees, with Burgess Field emerging as a host venue a few hours after the postponement was announced in the late afternoon.

In the end, players upgraded from a potentially mucky track to artificial turf.

North seniors Jud Huxtable and Zach Behrens joined Koppang with four goals each. Eric Vogel followed Russell with three for East.

Russell registered the game's last goal, beating North senior goalkeeper Carter O'Brien with 40.3 seconds remaining. O'Brien's point-blank save on Tim Canning with about 15 seconds left sealed the result.

"It was difficult. First half, letting all those goals in, only stopping two, really brought me down," O'Brien said. "But I knew second half, it's a 0-0 game, we could come back into it. And my offense put some numbers in, I felt like I had to step up and I saved a couple, and we all did a really good job."

Koppang admitted the last four-plus minutes were "not the smartest we've ever played," but the memory quickly dwindled after the final buzzer.

Cue the celebration, and where's that crosstown cup?

"The music, the stands, it was awesome," Bulara said. "I mean, we got out to a really slow start. It was unacceptable. I thought we used the stands, our seniors, and we came out and we rocked the second half."

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