VALPARAISO | As the seconds ticked away, Portage keeper Cody Simmons finally broke his concentration in goal and began raising his arms in celebration.
Several feet away, Valparaiso players collapsed to the ground with tears in their eyes, some punching the dirt in frustration.
It was a polarizing scene at the culmination of one of the bigger upsets in recent boys soccer history as the Indians knocked off two-time defending sectional champion Valparaiso 2-1 in the opening round of postseason play. Portage will play Chesterton for the sectional title.
“It was a crazy win,” Simmons said. “To beat Valpo and to do it at their place. We all did good tonight. This means a lot for us.”
While Portage coach A.J. Monroe didn’t shy away from calling Portage’s first win in six years over Valparaiso an upset, he believes the seeds for the win were planted earlier in the season. The Indians (11-5-1) rattled off a seven-match winning streak midway through the year before dropping tough matches to Chesterton and Valparaiso late in the season. The loss to the Vikings came in penalty kicks last week after 94 minutes of scoreless soccer.
“Last week was an indication that ‘Boys, you can play,’” Monroe said. “We started to pick that up in the Chesterton match. They stayed even-keeled. They didn’t get too emotional when they scored. They didn’t get too down when they were scored against.”
Portage freshman Joseph Gonzalez gave the Indians a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute when he finished off a pass from junior Joseph Huber just in front of the box. The goal marked the first time Valparaiso had trailed against a DAC opponent in the run of play all season.
Luke Kovar found the equalizer for Valparaiso exactly 10 minutes into the second half off a feed from Nate Dawson. The Vikings nearly took control of the match just after Kovar’s goal, but Simmons stood his ground and corralled one of his 10 saves on the evening.
“I just had to keep my head up,” Simmons said. “The field was very slippery. There was one shot where I took one step and fell. I thought I’d given one up there.”
With momentum turning toward Valparaiso, Portage midfielder Matthew Ford took a pass from Huber and launched a shot into the box that rolled up Andrew Fletcher’s arm and fell into the back of the net.
“I had no one on me and I took the shot,” Ford said. “It was a solid shot and it was a lucky volley.”
The loss brings an end to the careers of 12 Valparaiso seniors including Luke Kovar, Nick Hathoot and Cory Fox. Playing a brutal schedule this season, Jeftich had the team setup for a deep run after the Vikings (10-4-2) fell in semistate last season.
“We didn’t come to play and we were not prepared,” Jeftich said. “This team had really lofty goals. We trained for this since the first of June and we were optimistic that we could get out and get to Crown Point. This is very difficult, but life will continue on for these guys and we have to face this.”
Trent Weller scored two goals in the first 14 minutes and Nate Needham added two more goals to pace the Trojans in the nightcap as Chesterton knocked off Hobart 6-0 to advance to the sectional championship game. The Trojans beat Portage 2-1 earlier this season as Weller delivered the game-winning goal in overtime.