NORMAL — This year, the Gibault Hawks finished the job.
Denied a berth in the Class 1A state tournament last season by eventual champion Alton Marquette, the Hawks made it this year and returned with the desired prize.
Senior Wes Degener and junior Andrew Reinholz scored goals and senior Frank Mantia again was in the middle of the action Saturday night as the Hawks rallied past Herscher 2-1 to win the title at the Corn Crib.
It was Gibault's fourth state championship in the last nine seasons, the first three coming in 2005, 2006 and 2007 under Jim Corsi.
"It's unbelievable. It's such a great experience for everyone that came up here," Reinholz said. "I'm glad our fans were able to come out and give us all the support. Everyone played a great game --just like (Friday) night."
Gibault, which closed the season with eight consecutive victories, finished 19-4-4. Herscher, whose eight-game winning streak came to an end, finished 23-5-1.
The championship came in coach Matt Reeb's third season at Gibault. Reeb, 27, spent the 2010 season at Althoff.
"Althoff's always a great program, too, but with the history that Gibault had in the state tournament, it was obviously very enticing," Reeb said. "The freshman class that became sophomores when I took over --which is now the senior class --was a very, very talented class and deep class.
"It's very exciting for me. I had hoped we could achieve something like this and now it's here."
Reinholz's penalty kick at 47 minutes, 56 seconds snapped a 1-1 tie and proved to be the difference. The shot was set up when senior Zach Simmons fouled senior Frank Mantia in the right side of the box as Mantia dribbled in on junior keeper Leighton Howard.
Gibault typically calls on senior Mitch Meyer on penalty kicks, but Reeb summoned Reinholz, and Reinholz easily finished into the right corner of the netting as Howard hardly moved.
"Andrew is a great finisher," Reeb said of the forward-turned- defender. "He's got ice in his veins when it comes down the stretch. I knew he was going to bury it in the corner. He stepped up and put it in for us.
"(Mantia) might have been able to finish it himself, but he drew the PK when he was hit from behind in the box."
Reinholz, whose 14th goal of the season was his biggest, said the Tigers were trying to disrupt him as he lined up for the shot.
"Nothing was going through my mind at that point," Reinholz said. "It was all focus on the ball. They were trying to get in my head on the line to see if I could miss it one way or the other, but I stayed strong and was able to put it in."
A back-and-forth first half with virtually no midfield action ended in a 1-1 tie.
The Tigers struck first when senior Mitchell Schwarzkopf's free kick from 32 yards out caromed off the body of Gibault senior keeper Austin Gregson. Junior Colton Walter was there for cleanup duty and his goal put Herscher on top 1-0 at 21:12.
"We've got to be on our toes," Reeb said. "We always preach that we've got to follow up until the play is over. We didn't follow up and they got the rebound and put it in."
Gibault gained the equalizer at 25:37, however, when Mantia deposited a free kick from the left flank into the box. Degener redirected it with his head past Howard to make it 1-1. For Mantia, it was assist No. 23.
"I knew Frank was going to play it to me. He (always) looks for me in the box," said Degener, who at 6-foot-3 is usually among the tallest players on the field. "My first reaction was just to flick it on (goal), throw it toward the net and see what happens. I turned around and the goalie wasn't anywhere to be seen.
"I couldn't get much of it with the angle that I had, so I just tried to skim it and redirect it a little bit, and that's what happened."
Degener had two goals in the Hawks' 3-0 victory over Chicago Francis W. Parker on Friday and finished the season with 10.
Defensively, the Hawks were able to keep Schwarzkopf off the board. Schwarzkopf entered the game with 31 goals, including two in the Tigers' 4-1 win over Genoa-Kingston in the semifinals.
"They had more chances in the first half than they had in the second half," Reeb said. "But we weren't scared. I don't think they had an overly (high) amount of chances. I told them, 'We can't let them get behind us, because that's what they like to do, especially with a lot of speed up top.'
"I said, 'We had to make them break us down, but they're not going to be able to.' We did that, we didn't let anything over the top and we shut down the middle."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at email@example.com or 239-2665.