NORMAL — Normal West High School goalkeeper McCade Brown spent most of Monday afternoon's game at the West soccer field minding the net while watching his teammates attempt to gain an upper hand on offense at the other end of the field.
In the final minute, Brown joined his fellow Wildcats on the opposite side and ended up punching home the winning goal with 51.7 seconds remaining to give West a 2-1 victory over University High and a share of the Intercity Boys Soccer Tournament title.
"McCade has always been our 'Plan B' to play forward," said West coach Val Walker, who's not averse to pulling Brown and his 6-foot-5 frame out of the goal and placing him in the thick of things offensively.
"A big guy like that with good skill, he can do damage on the field," Walker said.
Brown's goal ended U High's quest for the outright Intercity tourney title with the Pioneers, West and Normal Community all posting 3-1 tournament records.
NCHS earned its title portion with a 4-0 tournament victory over Bloomington at Normal.
West's Brown had turned away five of six U High shots before converting on an attempt of his own to nail the game-winner.
"Throughout the year, we've had me come up and do stuff with (the offense) in practice and that really helped," Brown said.
Also helping was a nifty assist from Alec McGinnis as the Wildcats (5-1 overall) hunkered down to contend for a corner kick.
"There was a lot of people in there and it fell to Alec and he flipped it toward goal," Brown said. "I got a lucky touch on it to flip it past (the goal line)."
The goal set off a brief celebration before Brown returned to the West net and the Wildcat defense returned to business to fend off a final U High foray in the closing seconds.
"(West was in) in a situation where they had to win this game, so we knew they'd be pushing numbers up throughout the game," said U High coach Jeremy Stanton. "They've got great attacking players on that team and they were able to find one there with 50 seconds to go."
Wildcats' star Parker Theobald also found the back of the net in the opening half, grabbing a pass from Delphy Sabu and scoring with 22:37 remaining in the period.
U High (4-2) answered midway through the final frame when Matt Mier's free kick from midfield sailed over the West defense and onto the waiting foot of Cayden Redd, who punched it into the far corner of the net for a 1-1 tie.
The tussle was intense, with West called for 16 fouls and U High 13.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Brown. "Every year we go head-to-head with them, it's always close and it's always a hard battle. There's going to be some hard fouls that you just have to keep working through and hope that it comes out your way."
West out shot U High 10-6 in handing the Pioneers their first Intercity tourney loss since 2014.
"Intercity games are always challenging, no matter who you play," Stanton said. "So to be 9-1-2 in the last three years is awesome and I tip my hat to our guys for doing that.
"The first half we were a little bit on our heels," Stanton continued. "We weren't being the aggressor at all, we were kind of sitting back. I thought the second half we stepped forward a little bit and started showing some life on offense."
West coach Walker credited the Pioneers on their effort.
"(U High) played with heart and soul," Walker said. "A lot of those guys, I've known since they were kids. They're good, hard-nosed highly competitive kids."
"You have two teams that are evenly matched and we knew it was going to be a tough game," Stanton said. "A lot of the players play club together, so they know each other really well. This is the type of game we expected."
NCHS coach Matt Chapman also praised the Ironmen's opponent in their tourney finale.
"BHS was down on numbers today and they played their guts out and made us work for the win," Chapman said. "They showed a lot of heart today."
Sophomore Michael Reibling scored two goals for the Ironmen (4-1-1), who also received scores from Ethan Holland and Alex Zogg.
Senior midfielder Josef Halcomb had two assists for NCHS with Jordan Chamukeng assisting on Zogg's score.
The Ironmen held a 2-0 lead Purple Raiders (1-5, 0-4) at halftime and finished with a 12-1 advantage in shots.