Two teams featuring first-rate defenses made goals tough to come by on Saturday at the Division 1 soccer state finals at Novi High School. But in 58 seconds everything changed as the Skyline Eagles scored twice in less than a minute to turn a scoreless tie with East Kentwood into a 2-0 lead with less than 9 minutes to play in the game.
Nine minutes later, the Skyline Eagles were champions, capping off an incredible season and an even more incredible – and dominant – postseason run that included impressive wins over Saline, Canton, Dearborn and De La Salle – and finally East Kentwood in the championship game.
The Eagles finished the season with a 16-4-2 record, allowing just 11 goals all season and only one in their amazing postseason run to the title.
“We knew it was going to be a set piece or some kind of breakdown that was going to decide this game,” said Skyline Coach Chris Morgan. “We told them before the game started and throughout the game to trust, trust and trust. And we got it.”
Morgan, of course, praised the Skyline defense. The Eagles allowed just one goal the entire postseason (against Warren De La Salle in the semifinals) and only 10 goals during the regular season, led by senior goalie Kyri Wixom.
PLAYERS STEP UP AT BIG TIMES: https://weloveannarbor.com/2018/11/04/state-champions-skyline-players-stepped-up-at-key-moments-to-help-deliver-title/
“They just did an outstanding job,” he said. “From Kyri to the center backs to the outside backs. We didn’t make any subs in the back during the whole playoffs unless they got a card. Hats off to those boys. They just did an outstanding job. They worked all season on shape and our system and they believed.”
After 80 minutes of back-and-forth action with only a few really good scoring chances at both ends of the field, everything changed in 58 seconds. It all started with a direct kick off the foot of Jamie Palms. The senior sent in a ball from about 40 yards out that sophomore Gabe Kellman moved along to Chris Emerson, who finished it in style. Emerson, the talented junior forward, took the ball for a ride on a bicycle kick that ripped the back of the net and sent the Eagles to a 1-0 lead.
And that got the ball rolling. The Eagles didn’t sit back and hold on – they closed the deal 58 seconds later.
While the Skyline fans were still celebrating and the East Kentwood players were still processing what had just happened, Oskar Shiomi-Jensen came down the left wing and sent a perfect cross to the far post. Junior forward Bryce Schaner rose above an East Kentwood defender and headed the ball into the back of the net to push the lead to 2-0 with just 8:44 left in the game.
The Skyline defense did what it’s been doing all postseason, keeping the opposition out of the net and they did the rest to secure the victory.
“It’s just unbelievable to be here and it means so much to these coaches and players who worked so hard and put in the work and it’s been a crazy ride and I’m just so happy we came out on top,” said an emotional Wixom after the 2-0 win.
The Falcons best chance in the first half came with 11 minutes left when Giuseppe Calabrese took a direct kick from about 30 yards out that Wixom was able to get a hand on and tip it over the bar. The Eagles cranked up the pressure in the final minute of the first half, creating several quality scoring chances.
Both teams had a few quality chances in the second half. But it appeared both sides were being rather cautious, trying to avoid a costly mistake that could cost them the ballgame. Plus, the two teams came into the finals built on strong goaltending and solid defense and that’s what the fans in Novi watched for most of the 90 minutes – outside of 58 seconds.
East Kentwood finishes the season at 17-4-1. They beat Grand Blanc 1-0 in the other semifinal on Wednesday. The Falcons were chasing their sixth state championship since 2007 but they didn’t exactly fly into the postseason as heavy favorites this year.
In fact, East Kentwood finished fourth in their league – the OK Red Conference – behind Caledonia, Grand Haven and Rockford. This did mark the third consecutive trip to the final four for the Falcons, who won it all two years ago and last year lost in the semifinals to eventual state-champion Detroit Catholic Central.