By Ron Rop
Special for Second Half
KENTWOOD – When a team plays defense like Hudsonville Unity Christian is used to playing, it sure takes a lot of pressure off the offensive players when they often need to score only one score.
That air-tight defense was on display Saturday in the MHSAA Division 3 Boys Soccer Final as the Crusaders defeated Williamston 1-0 on a sunny, yet windy and chilly afternoon at Crestwood Middle School.
How good has the Crusaders’ defense been of late?
Saturday’s title game saw Unity’s 17th shutout in its last 19 games. And that string of shutouts came after Unity allowed nine goals in its first six games, including its only loss, 4-3, at the hands of Grand Rapids Christian.
For the Crusaders, it was the program’s fourth title with the last coming in 2012 in Division 2.
“We really emphasize team defense, all 11 defending together,” Unity coach Randy Heethuis said. “Williamston played a great game. They beat us to a lot of balls, especially late in the first half. Things got a little better for us in the second half.”
It was the early going of the opening half that produced the only goal the Crusaders would need.
A 50-yard free kick off the foot of senior defender Trent Vegter found the head of fellow senior Jared Timmer for the game’s lone goal with just 6½ minutes elapsed off the first-half clock.
“Trent Vegter played it in and No. 17 (Josh Flint) was man-marking me the entire game – give him credit, he was doing very well – but I kind of snuck in behind him and he missed it,” Timmer said. “And I just tried to put it back post, and it just went over the keeper’s hands.”
It was Timmer’s team-leading 30th goal of the season.
And with a solid defense, that single goal took off a lot of pressure off the Crusaders.
“When we scored that first goal, it was like OK, we had only given up two goals in the last 18 games, but you don’t know if a goal like that is going to hold up,” Heethuis said.
Unity Christian finished the season 24-1 while Williamston ended 14-4-6.
The Hornets had a solid attack from the outside, led by junior forward Zach Griffin, the team’s leading scorer throughout the season.
“They had a few dangerous moments, and it was not one that we could cruise through by any stretch of the imagination,” Heethuis said.
In the latter stages of the opening half, Williamston did make some noise in the offensive end when Jacob Topp found Josh Ward, who narrowly missed with a shot from a sharp angle.
In the second half, as Williamston was trying to mount offensive pressure in an attempt to produce a tying goal, the Unity defense took control with center back Nick Dykman, Jacob Brinks, MacKenna Senti and Bryce Schreur leading the way along with goalkeeper Lucas Ohlman.
With 14 minutes remaining in the game, Unity nearly added a second goal when Timmer unloaded a 30-yard shot that caused some problems for Hornets goalkeeper Jake Iannarelli. With the ball rolling free in front of the goal, Carson Brinks was able to get a foot on the ball, but could not find the net.
From there, the Crusaders were able to run out the clock and celebrate another MHSAA soccer title.
“At the beginning of the year, we talk to the kids and tell them the season is going to be broken up this way,” Heethuis said. “The first thing is to compete for a conference title. That is goal No. 1. Then, after that, we are going to take on the state tournament, and you’ve got three little tournaments. You have three games to win the district, you get by that and it’s two more to be regional champs and two more to be state champs. They focused on the games they needed to, and we came out on top.”
“We told the boys it would be a one-goal game,” Williamston coach Brent Sorg said. “We knew they are a very good team. But you know what? We liked the way we matched up with them. We are a very good team.”
“Their goalkeeper didn’t have to deal with much, their back do an incredible job of screening and blocking shots and winning the first ball, and it’s a credit to them,” Sorg added.
PHOTOS: (Top) Unity Christian's Jared Timmer maintains possession Saturday despite a challenge from Williamston junior Ian Petri. (Below) Williamston's Zach Richardson (11) attempts to get the ball away from Unity's Carson Brinks. (Click for all team and action photos from Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.