In an Intercity Soccer Tournament game that went from yawner to nailbiter, J.D. Kelley made it a thriller for University High School on Wednesday.
The junior forward did it by scoring on a 45-yard free kick with 2:17 left to sew up a 4-3 victory over visiting Normal Community.
"I put it right on goal," Kelley said. "Nate Clay got in the keeper's way and he couldn't see the ball so it bounced right through his legs and went in the back of the net."
That finished a rally that saw the Pioneers escape a 3-1 hole with 26:46 left.
"We're a team that never quits," said Kelley, who ranked that goal the longest and most important of his career.
In other action, Central Catholic blanked host Bloomington, 3-0.
The 21st annual tourney resumes at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday with NCHS (1-1-1 overall, 0-1-0 in the tournament) facing Central Catholic (3-1, 1-1) at the Sale Barn Field while Normal West (3-0, 1-0) takes on BHS (1-3, 0-2) at Community Fields.
U High (3-1, 2-0) returns to action at 10 a.m. Saturday against Central Catholic at the Sale Barn Field.
The key moment during a scoreless first half came when U High goalie Christian Lopez stopped Griffin Bruso's penalty kick.
"He's been a four-year starter and he's got a good read on PKs," said U High coach Jeremy Stanton. "Bruso kind of opened up and (Lopez) read it right."
U High opened the scoring when Mason Wittman headed home Kelley's corner kick with 33 minutes left.
NCHS followed with three unanswered goals in a 106-second span. First all-stater Josef Halcomb scored off an assist from Bruso before Michael Reibling tallied off an assist from Halcomb, who ended the flurry with an unassisted left-footed goal.
The reigning Class 1A state champion Pioneers responded with two goals by Clay within 97 seconds, the second assisted by Kelley.
"With our offense, we're never out of it," said Stanton, whose team was outshot, 18-9. "We just keep plugging away."
Both coaches agreed it was a strange game.
"They got one and then we came alive," said NCHS coach Matt Chapman. "And then we kind of lost our mojo a little bit and they crawled back into it a little at a time. They made plays when they needed to make plays.
"Their keeper was really good today. We had a couple of great chances that he stopped point blank."
Central Catholic shrugged off Monday's 6-0 loss to Normal West in a big way.
"We really came back to play this time," said Saint coach Reza Ghasemi. "We started taking over the game from first touch. We communicated well, passed well, executed well and finished well. That's the short version of the game."
Daniel Broadbear opened the scoring on a penalty kick within the first 12 minutes. Six minutes later, Ryan Thomas scored off an assist from Mael Kazigwa. Noah Bevilacqua ended the scoring eight minutes before intermission off another Kazigwa assist.
"Once we got the first goal, we really took control," Ghasemi said. "(BHS) played tough and didn't give up by any means, but today was our day. Our boys came back after the loss to West and that's the potential they have. Hopefully we can continue to reach that potential."
Saint goalie JC Micklich made one save.