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Nick Roe and Benet bounce back to give Morton a game

Nick Roe is one of Benet’s headiest players.

The junior defender can always be counted on to use his noggin to make smart decisions under pressure.

Which made what happened Friday night all the more shocking.

Roe was left shaking his head in dismay after he inadvertently headed a Morton shot into his net midway through the second half. The fluke play gave the host Mustangs a two-goal cushion in what turned out to be a 2-0 victory at the Morton Premier Invitational.

“It was super unlucky,” Benet coach Sean Wesley said. “I’ll take him in that spot 100 out of 100 times. I would bet that we won’t see that again.”

Morton’s Ivan Ramirez wasn’t expecting to score when he launched a 65-yard free kick, which came down just inside the Benet box. Roe went up to head the ball out of danger, but it went backward instead, sailing over the head of goalkeeper Evan Lucas and under the crossbar with 19:04 remaining.

Ramirez was credited with his first varsity goal, and Roe was left fighting back tears.

“I should have gone up earlier, I think,” Roe said. “I went up too late. It was a bad decision, and it just skidded off my head.”

Roe, who had to leave the game briefly in the first half after banging heads with a Morton player, blamed himself for the loss, although it wasn’t his fault.

Second-ranked Morton (9-1), which has won nine straight following a season-opening 3-1 loss to Naperville Central, already led 1-0 on the strength of Ismael Zepeda’s goal off a short corner kick four minutes earlier.

“I was telling him to keep his head up and that it wasn’t his fault,” junior defender Matthew Benka said. “Obviously, that can happen to anyone. It’s just unfortunate.”

But the Redwings (6-3) responded by raising the level of their play and finally putting some pressure on the Mustangs. Ryan Augustyn nearly broke through with 11:30 remaining, taking a lead pass from Brayden Fagbemi and launching a wicked shot from the right wing, but Morton goalkeeper Brandon Flores made a great diving save.

Wesley was pleased that Roe’s misplay prompted the Redwings to get mad, if not even.

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“I thought it was a great moment for our team,” Wesley said. “Look at the way they responded. We weren’t in this game. We were under it the entire game, and then one of our best players has an own goal that’s one of the unluckiest things that has happened this season.

“Instead of folding and yelling at people and blaming each other, we did the exact opposite, and we looked the best we’ve looked in the last 15 minutes.”

It still wasn’t enough to catch the Mustangs, who are known for wearing teams down with relentless athleticism and pressure. But it left the Redwings, whose 2021 season ended with a loss to Morton on penalty kicks in a Class 3A sectional final, with a glimmer of hope should they meet again in the playoffs.

“We showed a lot of fight and courage,” Roe said. “We’ve just got to work on moving the ball around more in the midfield, especially me. I played long way too many times, so I think we’ve got to move the ball around instead, maintain possession.”

Benka said the Redwings will maintain their confidence.

“That was just a small setback,” Benka said. “Even though it’s unfortunate and we don’t want that to happen, I thought we kept our composure well, and we still showed some great energy and fight, even though it didn’t give us the result we wanted.”

Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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