VALPARAISO | Back on Aug. 22, Valparaiso and Chesterton played a tight Duneland Athletic Conference game that was decided by a penalty kick.
The Vikings prevailed 1-0 that night, and the teams had a much-anticipated rematch Wednesday at Viking Arena in the semifinals of the Class 2A Valparaiso Sectional.
In another hard-fought battle that turned a bit chippy late in the second half, Valparaiso junior Steven Gerry nailed the game-winner from about 40 yards off to the left side, rattling off the top post over the head of Chesterton goalie Caleb Gmyrek with 35 seconds remaining to give the Times No. 2 Vikings a thrilling 1-0 victory.
Portage (9-7-1) will face Valparaiso (15-2) in Saturday's championship at 5 p.m. The Indians dispatched Hobart 10-0 in the first game. No. 3 Chesterton finished its season 11-4-1.
The second half was a physical, defensive display in which the first shot on goal didn't come until 2:55 remained when Chesterton's Cole Gordon hit a point-blank shot at Valpo keeper Ethan Lehnen.
There were four yellow cards issued, including three to Valparaiso. With 18:55 remaining, Lehnen caught a ball outside the box and was immediately taken down by Chesterton's Kody Lobsiger, but no card was issued.
Each team failed to cash in on a few scoring opportunities until Gerry's shot came out of nowhere after a throw-in from the deep left corner.
Both teams had good scoring opportunities in the first half, but for the most part the Trojans controlled play and kept Lehnen quite busy.
The Trojans' Zach Froman just missed on a header four minutes into the game. With 16 minutes remaining, Lehnen had to punch out a Lobsiger shot and in the final three minutes he made a diving save when Chesterton missed on a golden opportunity with two players free in front of the net.
At the other end, Chesterton keeper Caleb Gmyrek made three saves, with Valpo's Brendan Sutherland missing on the best opportunity of the half.
Before the game, Valpo coach Danny Jeftich said he was glad to play the Trojans in the sectional opener.
"We would probably have to play them anyway, might as well play them right away," Jeftich said. "It's going to be a very tight contest."
He was correct on that prediction.
In the first game, Portage scored three goals in a 3 1/2-minute span midway through the first half on its way to the easy victory over Hobart (1-15-1).
Vince Meade gave the Indians a 1-0 lead at 29:34 of the first half off an assist from Greg Prohl which then seemed to open the floodgates.
Nine minutes later, freshman Eli Fleming scored off an assist from Logan Cole. Just 24 seconds after that, Meade assisted on a Cole goal. And at 17:09, senior Alex Becker cashed in on a free kick from 22 yards out for a 4-0 advantage.
"We tried to work on a couple of things in preparation for Saturday's game," Portage coach A.J. Monroe said.
Fleming added another goal in the second half, and Becker would finish with a hat trick after scoring two more goals within 1:22 in the second half with the second coming on a free kick from 30 yards in front of the goal.
"We started to establish some things at the beginning of the second half," Monroe said. "Becker had the hat trick; Eli Fleming had a good game for us, and Vince Meade did a good job."
Taylor Felinski, Vic Mendoza and Joe Huber added late goals for the Indians.