Novi — For some reason, the defense froze and watched the ball move slowly about the penalty box. That’s when Hudsonville Unity Christian midfielder Jordan Bruckbauer saw the perfect chance to give his team the lead.
Bruckbauer inched toward the ball and blasted a left-footed kick past the defense to give Unity Christian a 2-1 advantage in the first overtime. Kadin Shaban added another goal in the second overtime period to secure a 3-1 victory for Unity Christian over Grosse Ile in the Division 3 state final Saturday.
After 37 minutes of scoreless action, Grosse Ile got on the scoreboard first when a shot by Christian Drzyga deflected off a Unity Christian defender and rolled past the goalkeeper.
Less than a minute later, Shaban was tripped in the penalty box by Grosse Ile goalkeeper Brendan Eblin, who was sent briefly to the sideline after receiving a yellow card. Shaban’s made penalty kick — one of his two goals in the match, bringing his total to 31— tied it 1-1 with 2:42 remaining in the first half.
In the second half, each team had clean shots at the net but couldn’t convert, causing the game to be decided in overtime. In those extra minutes, Unity Christian began to take chances at the net as instructed by coach Randy Heethuis, finally converting on Bruckbauer's goal.
“We really thought at the end of regulation, you know we had a couple of goals called back, but we were starting to put the pressure on them, and we thought we could continue to do that,” said Heethuis, who’s in his 25th year as coach at Unity Christian.
“Jordan Bruckbauer, you know, he has not scored a lot of goals for us, but he got a big one there to give us the lead. The ball was just kind of sitting there, and he just went for it. It’s the biggest goal of his life.”
In the win, Unity Christian (23-2-1) continued its defensive dominance, only giving up its second goal of the playoffs and eighth of the season. It held a Grosse Ile team — which had outscored its previous playoffs opponents 38-1, and was the top-ranked Division 3 team in the state for seven weeks — to just one score. It also forced 18 shutouts on the season, including a 4-0 win over Ludington in the semifinals.
Offensively, Unity Christian was led all year by Shaban, who said he never lost confidence in his team, despite Grosse Ile (27-2) taking a 1-0 lead.
“I thought we could come back,” Shaban said. “It was really even, but we had some good chances. I thought if we just kept our heads, we could come back and we did.”
Of his team’s response after Grosse Ile’s goal, Heethuis said: “That’s the mark of a good team. If you can face the adversity and go right back after it and try to get the next one. Five minutes after a goal is big; this time it was 50 (actually 52) seconds.
Unity Christian’s win gives the program its fifth state title in school history and first since 2014.
Ann Arbor Skyline 2, East Kentwood 0: Ann Arbor Skyline captured its second Division 1 state championship since it opened eight years ago. Chris Emerson and Bryce Schaner scored 58 seconds apart in the second half for Skyline.
Birmingham Detroit Country Day 1, Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern 0 (shootout): John Dougherty made 19 saves to lead Detroit Country Day (20-5-2).
Leland 1, Ann Arbor Greenhills 0: Jesus Calderon-Balcazar scored in the 33rd minute as Leland (24-1-3) claimed its first soccer state title with a victory over defending champion Greenhills (11-9-3).
Dwjuan Frazier is a freelance writer.