GRAND LEDGE — Usually if a soccer teams falls behind late in a state championship game, there’s a big “uh-oh” and sense of dejection.
But falling behind late against Brighton in the 2023 MHSAA Division 1 Final put Troy Athens in a comfort zone.
“We were behind in the District Final, we were behind in the Regional Semifinal, we were behind in the Regional Final, we took the lead in the Semifinal but then fell behind, and we were behind again tonight,” Athens head coach Todd Heugh said. “Certainly, there’s a lot of resolve and resiliency in our group.”
As it turned out, it was championship resolve and resiliency for Athens.
Thanks to a goal late in regulation that tied the game and one more 2:59 into overtime, Athens is once again a Finals champion in boys soccer following a 2-1 win over Brighton.
The title was the sixth in program history for Athens (20-3-2).
The winning goal with 7:01 left in the first portion of overtime came from senior Manny Aigbedo, who put home a loose ball in the Brighton box after a mad scramble following an Athens corner kick.
“I just kneed it,” Aigbedo said. “I got anything I could on it. Just a little bit and went in. I didn’t even know I scored at that moment because there was so many people trying to get it.”
The game was scoreless until 9:02 remained in regulation, when Brighton took a 1-0 lead on a goal from senior Colin Robertson.
The goal came after a flurry of shots on Athens goalkeeper Adam Ethridge, who initially stopped Brighton leading scorer Devlin McGinnis on a point-blank shot in the box. A rebound caromed to Brighton junior Owen Buckley, but he was stopped by Ethridge.
But with Ethridge out of the net, another rebound came to the left side of the box to Robertson, who fired a shot into essentially an empty net just past multiple Athens defenders who tried to scramble back to the goal line.
From there, Athens pressured to get the equalizer, and finally did.
With 1:56 remaining in the second half, senior Brody Fahnestock stepped into a fast-paced shot from roughly 30 yards out that went past Brighton’s keeper and into the goal to tie the game at 1-1.
The tying goal seemed to deflate Brighton (19-4-2), which was less than two minutes from winning a first Finals championship in school history.
Athens dominated the overtime period, outshooting Brighton 10-1 overall and 8-0 on goal.
“When they got that tying goal, it kind of took the wind out of our sails there at the end,” Brighton head coach Mark Howell said. “We knew overtime was going to be an uphill battle trying to climb back in it momentum-wise. We knew they had a lot of experience returning on the big stage. It just didn’t fall the way we wanted it to.”
Athens got off to a slow start this season, but got rolling in September and never looked back, showing once again there’s no substitute for experience as the team had 16 seniors.
“We don’t always play the prettiest brand,” Heugh said. “But we’re usually organized, and we usually are going to fight to the end.”
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PHOTOS (Top) Troy Athens celebrates its overtime win in Saturday's Division 1 Final at Grand Ledge. (Middle) The Red Hawks' Daniel Kadiu (23) races upfield with a Brighton defender chasing.
Join Robby Elliott as State Champs! takes a look at all of the action from the 2023 Boys Soccer Finals.