MISHAWAKA — The Duerksen family has come to define NorthWood boys soccer. That’s why it seemed only fitting that one of its members took the program to heights previously unseen Saturday night.
Sophomore Chase Duerksen played hero, scoring on a header with 30:06 left in the game to give NorthWood a 2-1 victory over South Bend St. Joseph in the Class 2A regional championship game at Mishawaka High School. It was the first regional championship in program’s 26-year history.
“I can’t lie about that: it meant a lot,” said NorthWood coach Brad Duerksen seeing his son score the regional-winning goal. “He came out of nowhere. He was so determined; he’s been determined all week. When he had the scare about having to sit out for COVID (during sectional week), I think it kind of lit a fire under him even more.
“We throw him up there for every corner that we get, even the long throws. To see him come through with the goal like that, it felt great as a dad and it felt great as a coach.”
For Chase, he knows how much the NorthWood program has meant to his dad. That’s what makes the regional title victory that much sweeter.
“There’s no one I wanted to do this for more than my dad,” Chase said. “He’s been coaching for 23 years, and to get his first regional championship? I just love it. This is the happiest I’ve ever seen him. The program deserves it.”
The game winner was set up by a beautiful corner kick from senior Sebastian Guillen. It was only Duerksen’s second goal of the season.
“It was a great ball by Sebastian,” Chase said. “It went right to me. I felt a few kids hit me and just went toward the ball, hit it as hard as I could and it went in perfectly.”
Duerksen’s goal came less than three minutes after the Indians had tied it at one. Senior Ryan David Larkins scored on a free kick that bounced off the Panthers’ goalie’s hand and into the back of the net, tying the game at one momentarily.
NorthWood controlled most of the first half, but had no goals to show for it until late in the frame. Senior Andre De Freitas was making a move in the goalbox and was tripped, resulting in a foul call. Since this occurred in the box, the Panthers were awarded a penalty kick.
Guillen stepped up to kick for NorthWood and buried it to make it 1-0 Panthers with 2:06 to go in the first half. Coach Duerksen said Guillen takes about 90% of the penalty kicks for the team, so they were confident he was going to score there.
“We thought the wind would be a little bigger factor than it was, so we chose to take the wind in the first half because we wanted to press them a little hard at the beginning,” coach Duerksen said. “So, getting that goal before halftime was absolutely huge because we wanted to get at least one in that first half.”
The championship win came in the backdrop of NorthWood having its regional semifinal opponent, Hammond Clark, being forced to forfeit due to COVID-19 issues. This gave the Panthers an automatic spot in the regional title game. Meanwhile, St. Joe had to defeat No. 4 West Lafayette earlier in the day Saturday to advance to the final at night.
Coach Duerksen said having the extra rest probably played a factor in the title game.
“I think it’s completely unfair for St. Joe, to be honest with you,” Duerksen said. “We played the hand we were dealt. I know when we played two games when we were in the Argos tournament, we gave it everything to beat Zionsville and had nothing left against Argos. … We talked about, as a coaching staff, how the stars are kind of aligning for this team this year. So, we’re going to take advantage of the opportunities that we have, and I thought we did a nice job of doing that.”
NorthWood will now face Fort Wayne Canterbury in the northern Class 2A semistate game 3 p.m. Oct. 24 at South Bend St. Joseph High School. The winner of that game will play the winner of the Guerin Catholic-Evansville Memorial game for the 2A boys state championship Oct. 31.