CARY – With two minutes remaining in the season opener, Cary-Grove senior midfielder Josh Gratz lined up for a free kick in a spot almost identical to where he had scored from in the first half.
The result wasn't the same. Like several other second-half chances for the Trojans (0-1-0), it sailed over the crossbar, and Rockford Boylan (1-0-1) held on for a 2-1 road win Wednesday night.
“It was good to finally get a game," Cary-Grove head coach Mark Olson said. "There’s some things we have to go ahead and clean up a little bit, but that’s why we play the season. As far as the effort, I can’t fault their effort.”
The effort might have been highest when the Trojans were trailing, but they were most impressive early on in the game. Senior Israel Lopez and junior Esteban Angeles held the ball well in midfield, and junior Michael Arenberg controlled the left flank.
Cary-Grove had a great chance 15 minutes in. An attempted clearance fell to Angeles 25 yards out, and he sent a stinging drive toward the right post. Boylan keeper Tim Trilk blocked it, as well as the follow-up effort from Lopez.
With five minutes remaing in the half, the Trojans found their breakthrough on a free kick just outside the box. Gratz sent in a curling strike toward the left post, and though Trilk was in great position, his hand deflected it into the net.
Though it looked like it might have been a cross, Gratz was very sure of himself after the game.
"It was a shot," he said with a smile.
The second half was a different story. Just over four minutes in, Titans captain Tristan Davenport's free kick sailed over 50 yards into the box, where a glancing header from Jaime Vera sent it bouncing past the outstretched arms of Cary-Grove senior keeper Ethan Csoka.
Shortly afterward, a push right at the edge of the box was ruled a penalty by the assistant referee. Vera stepped up and coolly placed it into the bottom left corner.
“They took advantage [of their chances] in the second half, high-pressured us," Angeles said "They took the game.”
The Trojans continued to fight, particularly Lopez in midfield, but they could not put a single shot on frame after halftime. Trilk's two first-half saves ended up being his only challenges in net.
Cary-Grove's last chance came with 20 seconds left, when corner kick was cleared and fell to the feet of senior defender Patrick McKune. He stepped up and caught hold of it, but it flew over the crossbar.
The Trojans weren't too disappointed about opening the season with a loss. While there is room for improvement, they walked away satisfied with how they fought.
"It wasn’t a bad loss," Gratz said. "It was a hard-fought game. We played our hearts out and left it all on the field.”