URBANA — They took some ownership for the loss, pointing out a little thing here or a little thing there that may have swung the outcome of the game.
Urbana’s Jason Kolar brought up his potential game-tying bounce shot with just over six minutes remaining in Wednesday’s Class 4A North region final that struck the bottom of the crossbar.
“That’s on me — I’ve got to finish that,” Kolar said. “No goalie should be able to save that.”
Kolar’s brother, Eric, said the Hawks’ boys lacrosse team didn’t attempt enough high shots against Howard.
But several people, from the Kolars to Urbana coach Gavin Donahue to Howard coach Jimmy Creighton, could easily point out the biggest determining factor in the Lions’ 6-5 victory: the spectacular play of Howard goalie Matt Hubbard.
The junior singlehandedly kept his team in contention in the first quarter, making seven of his 14 saves. The Urbana coaching staff, Hawks midfielder Brendan Schmitz said, advocated for taking more bounce shots such as the one Jason Kolar took in the final period. On several occasions, however, Hubbard was up to the task, showing his agility by quickly dropping to his knees to stop those shots.
On paper, the Hawks (17-1), the top seed in Section II of the 4A North region, were favored to beat the 12-5 Lions — the No. 3 seed in Section I. Often enough in the NHL playoffs, goalies who play at an otherworldly level lead their teams to upset victories over top-echelon teams. As he talked about Hubbard, Donahue turned to some terminology used to describe such hockey goalies.
“He stood on his head,” Donahue said. “I thought we had some high-percentage shots [where] he made some really good saves.”
The scoresheet of Wednesday’s game will show that junior attack Jeff Bruner put the Lions in the Class 4A state semifinals, twisting his body around a defender to fire a shot past Urbana goalie Kevin Medina with 2:16 left in the third quarter. But one can make the argument that Hubbard’s play in the first half, Creighton said, made the difference even though the Hawks held a 3-2 halftime lead.
Fittingly, when Howard received the 4A region championship plaque, Hubbard raised it over his head as his teammates bounced around him in celebration of the title.
“Matt’s been playing outstanding all season, and he did it again — just as we expected him to,” Creighton said.
Creighton also pointed out the strong play of defenseman Ben Stephanos, who headed a unit that played a zone defense the Hawks were not accustomed to seeing all season. Before Wednesday’s game, Urbana had scored no fewer than 12 goals in any other game it played all season.
As it did all spring, the Hawks’ defense played well, with Joey Masson, Steven Drabick and Ethan Edwards leading a group that slowed down the Lions’ top attackers, Bruner and Nathan Boone. And while Urbana leans heavily on the Kolars, Jack Jozwiak, Jason Jozwiak and Schmitz for offense, they also showed how much stock they take in defense, hounding any Lion who had the ball and looking to take it away.
That defensive intensity may have been Urbana’s best offensive weapon.
The Jozwiaks teamed up to form a double-team that led to a turnover and a game-tying goal in the first quarter. One of Eric Kolar’s strips had the Hawks off and running, leading to a goal from Jack Jozwiak that gave the Hawks their one-goal halftime lead. In the third quarter, Jason Kolar intercepted a pass with his stick, resulting in the last of Schmitz’s two goals — a score that gave Urbana its final lead of the game at 5-4.
“That’s what this team is about — we’re competing and never giving up on that stuff,” Eric Kolar said. “Riding, that’s one of the biggest things we’ve [improved on] this year. ... Our ride this year was fantastic. Everybody was in on it, everybody was about it.”
Schmitz said he thought Urbana was capable of winning a state championship when the Hawks knocked off Howard County power Glenelg in late March.
“Out of my four years, this is probably the most fun I’ve had — probably the best team I’ve played on,” said Schmitz, who has also played football and basketball for Urbana. “The potential of this team is crazy. I couldn’t ask for anything [more] for my last season.”
Donahue met briefly with his players before they retreated to their locker room, simply telling them to “keep their heads high.”
“I love this team, I’m proud of them,” Donahue said. “They played hard, and that’s all I can ask.”