By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half
BRIGHTON – It took nearly the entire game for East Lansing boys soccer star DeJuan Jones to find the net in the Division 2 championship game Saturday.
When he did, it not only was worth the wait, but provided the Trojans with the winning margin for their second straight MHSAA championship.
Jones assisted on the game-tying goal late in the second half and scored in overtime to spark East Lansing to a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood in a thrilling, seesaw game at Brighton High School.
It was the fifth MHSAA championship in boys soccer for East Lansing and gave the Trojans back-to-back titles for the first time. Jones scored in East Lansing’s 2-0 victory over Spring Lake in the championship game last year, but this year’s goal was more crucial to the outcome.
“Last year, we were definitely more relaxed through the game, and this year was more of a nail-biter,” said Jones, a senior forward/midfielder who said he will play for Michigan State University next year. “We’ve been determined all year, and we were not going to go out on a loss, especially in the state championship game. We really wanted to make history, and we did it.”
East Lansing, champion of the Capital Area Activities Conference Blue, finished 24-2.
The Trojans held a 2-0 lead late in the first half, but Cranbrook Kingswood made it a one-goal deficit just before halftime. The Cranes added two more goals in the second half and held a 3-2 lead with less than seven minutes to play when Jones set up Elmedin Celovic, who scored the tying goal on a header in the 34th minute of the second half.
“That’s the type of player that he is,” East Lansing coach Nick Archer said of Jones. “He will see someone in a better position and lay the ball off. He’s a very unselfish player, and he has the talent to play both sides of the ball. He’s a real team player.”
The goal not only tied the game, but seemed to fuel East Lansing with some much-needed momentum.
“I just wanted to put it in the back of the net when I saw it coming,” Celovic said. “From there on, we just had to fix every mental breakdown that we had earlier that caused them to come back in the game and take the lead.
“I think after the tying goal before overtime that we did take the momentum. After that, the little huddle we had, we regrouped, and we weren’t going to let them have anything. We were just going to hang on to the ball, and we didn’t want them to come back in the game.”
In the first 10-minute stretch of overtime, Jones provided East Lansing with the lead when he crossed from the left side of the net and put the ball in the far corner in the third minute for an unassisted goal.
“I saw a space in the area where I took a shot before, so once I got there, I knew if I hit the shot hard enough, it would find its way to the back of the net,” Jones said.
The goal capped an incredible postseason run for Jones, who scored in each of East Lansing’s seven tournament games, including a five-goal performance in the District Final. He had 11 goals in seven playoff games and finished the season with 23 goals and 15 assists.
Still, the goal did not immediately end the game as overtime consists of two 10-minute periods, regardless of whether one team scores. The teams switched ends, and that was crucial as a strong wind blew from goal to goal and certainly provided the team with the wind at its back something of an advantage.
East Lansing maintained its momentum and kept Cranbrook Kingswood from scoring. It was the second consecutive victory in overtime for East Lansing, which nipped Mason 3-2 in overtime three days earlier in their Semifinal.
“These last two games, I thought I had a couple of gray hairs to give up. I know I don’t have anything left,” Archer said. “We were very fortunate to come out on top both times.”
Celovic got East Lansing started quickly when he scored in the first minute of the game with assists from Jones and Chris Pridnia.
“We just wanted to start out strong and take the lead early and put pressure on them,” Celovic said.
“When I saw the ball drop back, the first thing on my mind was to not kick it over and just put it in the back of the net.”
Midway through the first half, Zach Lane gave East Lansing a 2-0 lead when he beat the goalkeeper with a low shot to the left part of the net on a free kick. It appeared the Trojans would take that lead to halftime, but Ken Kernen of Cranbrook Kingswood outmaneuvered a defender and scored into the far corner of the net from the left side with five seconds to go to the cut lead to 2-1.
“It was a beautiful goal,” Cranbrook Kingswood coach Chad O’Kulich said. “Kenny has just stepped up his game. It was a fun goal to create; they’re still fighting with six seconds left.
“That goal was a huge momentum-shifter because going into the half down 2-0 against East Lansing would have been tougher. We knew we had the wind, so we felt good regardless of what was going to happen. But to score that goal and shift the momentum for us was huge because now you go into the locker room euphoric and elated and ready to go. And we knew we had the wind.”
With the wind at its back, Cranbrook Kingswood scored twice in the second half to take a 3-2 lead. Kernen tied it with his second goal of the game with a header off a throw-in from Simon Heidingsfelder.
When the clock got inside 10 minutes to go in the second half, East Lansing, playing into the wind and trailing by one, had to find a way to score.
“When we went down, we were a little nervous, but I told the boys, ‘We’ve been here before with Mason and Grand Ledge twice,’ ” Celovic said. “I told them, ‘There is nothing to worry about. We still have 10 minutes, that’s a long time.’
“It was just, ‘Give it everything you’ve got.’ The last 10 minutes of the game we’re down one and just give it everything you’ve got and just play with your heart. That’s what we did, and we just pressured them.”
Both goalkeepers were tested and came up with big saves. Cranbrook Kingwood outshot East Lansing 18-16 as Cranes goalkeeper Trevor Stormes had six saves. East Lansing goalkeeper Chris Wallace made five.
It was a thrilling way for East Lansing to win, but a tough way for Cranbrook Kingswood to lose.
“What a battle, what a game,” O’Kulich said. “To be down 2-0 against an East Lansing team and come back and make it 3-2 just shows the character this team has played with the entire season. They’re never out, they’re never down, and they battle until the last second.
Cranbrook-Kingswood, champion of the Detroit Catholic League AA, finished 19-3-1 and appeared in the championship game for the first time
“We walk out of here with our heads held high, and we walk out with the same positive culture that we’ve had this entire season,” O’Kulich said.
PHOTOS: (Top) East Lansing players including Andy Millar (6) and their fans celebrate the Trojans’ second straight MHSAA Division 2 championship. (Below) East Lansing’s Quinton Hay and Cranbrook Kingswood’s Garrett Powell (16) work for possession. (Top photo by HighSchoolSportsScene.com; below photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos. Click for all team and action photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
SCHOOLCRAFT — If it is a home game for the Schoolcraft football team, head over to Vicksburg.
If it is soccer, go to Schoolcraft’s baseball field.
Things are a bit jumbled in the sports world for the Eagles this season.
With a new football field under construction and a new elementary school built on the site of the former practice fields, the two teams have been a bit displaced.
“Along with our football field, we had three practice fields that were utilized by a lot of our youth programs, Rocket football, youth soccer and our soccer and football programs,” Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin said. “It’s taken a lot of understanding and flexibility from our coaches, players and our community to make it work out, and it has.”
Meanwhile, all four Eagles home football games will be played at Vicksburg High School.
If Vicksburg is home on a Friday, then the Eagles will play Saturday, including their Homecoming game this Saturday against Galesburg-Augusta.
The Eagles won their only “home” game so far, 33-14 against Kalamazoo United, and take a 3-1 record into Saturday’s contest.
The soccer team gave up its field to the football team for practices and has been practicing and playing their matches in the outfield of the baseball stadium.
For the soccer team, “It’s kind of an upgrade,” Applin said. “The soccer field they traditionally play on, they don’t have a scoreboard, they don’t have a bathroom facility, so we’ve been able to use the (baseball) scoreboard, the PA system, open up the bathroom building.
“The goal at some point is to give soccer a home, and we’re very, very excited about that.”
This year definitely has been challenging for the first-year AD, who credits Vicksburg athletic director Mike Roy with being a tremendous help.
“Mike Roy has been nothing but accommodating to us,” Applin said. “He’s been super helpful to me stepping in and assuming this scenario.
“The communities are so close, it almost feels like home for us.”
Roy said Jeff Clark, former Schoolcraft AD, reached out once the bond was passed for the new stadium last year.
“We had to make small accommodations as did Schoolcraft to make the schedules work,” Roy said. “By moving (Schoolcraft’s) games to Saturday, Vicksburg had to work with our Rocket football organization to make sure games were completed” before the Eagles varsity games.
Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency said his team has been “rolling with the punches.
“These guys don’t care where it’s at; they just want to play football. We’re all taking care of each other. What a great place to be when everybody works together.”
When Jake Bailey heard the team would be playing at Vicksburg, “That got me excited,” the junior offensive tackle said. “They’ve got a really nice facility. I know the school will come out to support us no matter where we are, but it’s definitely different.
“Good thing we don’t play Vicksburg, although it would be fun because it would be both our home fields. The new facilities and being back at our home field at Roy Davis (Field next year) will be really fun.”
Vicksburg is Division 4, while Schoolcraft is Division 7.
The soccer team was “just being a team player” in giving up its own field for football practice, second-year head coach Jeremy Mutchler said.
“For the soccer team to be a team player and get behind the football team will help the community get behind the soccer team as well,” he added.
The biggest drawback is that part of the current field includes a piece of the baseball infield.
“The only odd thing is it is a smaller field, still regulation size, but smaller,” Mutchler said. “Part of the field is in the diamond, so we have to play in the dirt and it gets tricky, especially when you’re trying to throw it in or just play down the line.”
The move has cost the team a few home games.
“At the beginning of the year, we allowed schools, if they didn’t want to play here, we would go to their house,” Mutchler said. “We had to go to a few schools we would have played at home.”
Maintenance supervisor Eric McGehee was instrumental in preparing the field.
“He laid out exactly the parameters, so I was able to send that to all the ADs that were going to visit to give them an opportunity to decide whether that’s something they wanted to help us out for our home games,” Applin said. “A lot of schools were more than willing to come and play us to give our boys some home games. A couple wanted to be cautious and play on a more traditional surface, and we were able to make those arrangements as well.”
In only its second year as a varsity sport, the boys soccer team is still finding its identity, posting a 2-5 record so far.
“We’re a very young team,” Mutchler said. “All juniors and freshmen. This is the juniors' second regular season. It’s all been a learning phase with maturity and sportsmanship.”
Junior captain Jack Curtis said he was a bit “bummed out” when he heard the team would move to the baseball field.
“The first practice, I drove over to our practice field,” he said. “No one was there.
“I drove over to the high school and saw everyone practicing (at the baseball field). I didn’t think a soccer field could fit on a baseball field.”
Curtis said in spite of the temporary move, “I’m just glad we can have some home games this year on Schoolcraft soil.”
As for Applin, he spent much of his career coaching basketball at both the high school and college levels and most recently worked as a salesman for Zeigler. His wife, Meredith, is an assistant coach for Western Michigan University’s women’s basketball team.
Ferency is appreciative of the work Clark and Applin have done to make this season’s changes relatively seamless.
“I’d like to highlight how great our athletic department is,” he said. “It takes a lot of moving pieces and parts to move people around and have a space for everybody.
“I’m really proud of our athletic department and all our coaches and kids for just rolling with the punches.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Schoolcraft’s varsity boys soccer team, including Nyan Wonders (15), faces Comstock this season on its field in the outfield of the baseball stadium. (2) Schoolcraft’s Kolby Lloyd (10) works to break away from a tackler during a “home” game played at Vicksburg this fall. (3) Clockwise, from top left: Schoolcraft football coach Nathan Ferency, Schoolcraft boys soccer coach Jeremy Mutchler, soccer player Jack Curtis and football player Jake Bailey. (4) Schoolcraft athletic director Bryan Applin has taken over the maneuvering of the teams’ home sites during his first year on the job. (Action photos by Stephanie Blentlinger/Lingering Memories Photography. Headshots and Applin photo by Pam Shebest.)