It felt like a game better suited for a state championship.
The high-profile tilt between defending Class 2 state runner-up Helias against two-time defending Illinois champion Quincy Notre Dame didn't disappoint.
The first of a string of matchups against big-time opponents for Helias this season ended with the Lady Crusaders coming up just short, falling 3-2 on a last-minute goal Saturday afternoon at the 179 Soccer Park.
"Our schedule has games like stacked all the way through," Helias head coach Brad Dempsey said. "If you take a look at the teams we could potentially play like that in the playoffs, they have to play us like that to beat us. It's a good test for us to play a team like that early in the season and learn from it."
Cassidy Foley made the winning play for Quincy Notre Dame with 59 seconds left to avenge the Lady Raiders' lone loss in their 2013 title-winning season.
Foley took possession of the ball near midfield and streaked down the left sideline. As she neared the penalty box, Foley cut toward the goal and delivered a cross that deflected off a Helias defender into the net.
"Just another defensive breakdown," Dempsey said. "That goal has nothing to do with (the Helias defender). It was a breakdown from the beginning. Those things happen. I've done it myself multiple times."
It was an unlucky ending for a game Helias controlled. The Lady Crusaders held a 14-7 edge in shots, including 8-4 in shots on goal.
Foley was a menace all game long. The senior forward scored Notre Dame's first two goals, one in the first eight minutes into the game on a left-footed shot about 30 yards from the goal.
"They got one early because there was consistently a space of 30 yards somewhere between our midfield, our attackers and our defense," Dempsey said. "We struggled to cover that space. A lot of it is due to the fact that we're playing differently this year. It's going to take time to learn where to be, how to be there, how to rotate, how to consistently keep the ball in front. That's my fault. I'm OK with that.
"It's a process of us figuring it out to get better. If we lose a couple games along the way, trying to do that, I'll take the blame and take the heat for it."
It appeared Helias found the equalizer with 12 minutes left in the half when Tiffany Weaver rocketed home a goal off a through-ball from Jordan Poire. But the play was ruled offside.
Weaver finally did get the equalizer off a corner kick three minutes into the second half, blasting home a shot from point-blank range following a scramble in the box.
"We work on restarts all the time," Dempsey said. "We can score off of restarts, and that's going to help us as we move forward. Because in a close game against a really good team that's going to be big. It was big today. Brought us back in the game."
Foley gave Notre Dame the lead again, beating the Helias goalkeeper with a header off a clearance from the Lady Raiders' own end.
Helias knotted the score again on one of the strangest sequences you'll see in soccer. A Notre Dame defender played the ball back to the goalkeeper, who decided to pick it up. Since that's against the rules, Helias was awarded a free kick in the penalty box.
After two Lady Crusaders stepped over the ball, Becky Roberts lofted a shot over Notre Dame's wall and into the upper-right corner of the net for the tying goal with 7:17 left. Notre Dame coach Mark Longo was shown a yellow card after the goal, exuberantly arguing that the back-pass wasn't intentional.
"It was the right call," Dempsey said. "It was a great shot by Becky. It was a great finish."
The ball just didn't bounce Helias' way in the final minute.
"There's going to be a lot of games this year where it's going to be one way or the other," Dempsey said. "Obviously we wanted to come out our way, and it didn't today. We're going to use this loss as a way to learn and build off it."
Notre Dame is 2-0. Helias (1-1) hosts Battle on Monday.