Juan Franco’s beard was covered with frosting and there still might be some pieces of cake left on his face two days later, but the longtime Morton College men’s soccer coach is still relishing the taste of the sweetest victory in his career.
Morton College finally captured that elusive Region IV championship with a 3-1 win over the College of DuPage November 1 at the Antonio Carbajal Soccer Complex in Cicero. The win, which moves the Panthers into the Great Lakes District title game for the first time in college history, also was the 200th victory in Franco’s career.
“It is like a miracle,” said Franco, who is 200-104-32 in 17 seasons at Morton College. “We finally got here. This is something I can’t find the words to describe how I feel. We have really great players and a great team.”
The Panthers (17-1-4) face NJCAA Division I defending champion Iowa Western for the Great Lakes District championship at 2 p.m. Saturday, November 8, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, with the winner headed to the national tournament. The Reivers (20-0-1) are ranked second nationally and carry a 46-match unbeaten streak into the contest.
“Every time I’ve been here, it never happens for some reason,” Franco said. “The guys stayed focused and now we move on to play in Iowa.”
This time, the right combination of luck and skill were on Morton College’s side. The Panthers were lucky to escape the opening half ahead 1-0 on Daniel Reyes’ tally as a pair of DuPage shots clanged off the crossbar.
With the game even at 1, Franco reinserted Morton College’s version of the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in Maxwell Ejigou and Sergio Otalora. They quickly made a difference with Ejigou, who earlier assisted on Reyes’ goal, scored off a rebound of an Otalora shot at the 65th minute for his 14th tally of the campaign.
Otalora converted a penalty kick 14 minutes later to score in his sixth straight game, bringing his season total to 19 goals and eight assists.
“Once Maxwell scored, that gave us a shot of energy and made us believe,” Otalora said.