By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
CEDAR SPRINGS – The Western Michigan Christian Warriors experienced 75 seconds of miserable luck Wednesday, and it cost them a shot at a state title.
WMC and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian played a nearly even first half in their Division 4 state semifinal game, and the outcome seemed very much in doubt.
Then fate took a nasty turn on the Warriors.
An controversial call by the referee near the WMC goal with 12 seconds left in the first half gave Covenant a penalty kick from five yards out. The resulting goal broke the scoreless tie.
Then a WMC player accidently kicked the ball into his own goal just 1:03 into the second half, giving Covenant a two-goal cushion.
In the end Covenant walked away with a 3-1 victory and a date in Saturday’s Division 4 state finals against Bloomfield Hills Roeper. The Chargers will try to claim a title after losing the past two years in the championship game.
“We are very motivated,” said Covenant Christian Coach Mike Noorman. “We weren’t looking ahead, but it was in the back of our minds that we wanted to get back there (to the finals). We didn’t get it done the first two times.
“The first half tonight was very even. One goal changes a lot. When you go into halftime with a one-goal lead you gain a little confidence going forward. I thought we settled down after that and play much better soccer in the second half.”
WMC ended its season with a 16-9 record, district and regional championships and a lot of great memories.
But the loss – and the way it occurred – was painful for Coach Dave Hulings and the Warriors.
“Both of those goals were on clearing attempts,” an emotional Hulings said after the game. “I don’t want to take anything away from Covenant Christian. But this was a hard way to lose for these boys. These are high school athletes.”
The first Covenant goal was particularly tough for the Warriors, who aren’t certain the correct call was made.
A WMC defender playing near the goal kicked the ball back to goalie Michael Merz, who caught it in the air.
The referee ruled that it was an intentional pass to the goalie – which is illegal for a player from the same team – and awarded the close range penalty kick with 12 seconds left on the clock.
Covenant’s Colin Riemersma calmly shot the ball past a wall of defending Warriors, putting the Chargers up 1-0 at halftime.
It was the first goal the Warriors surrendered in six tournament games.
Hulings said the defender was trying to clear the ball, and it went off the side of his left foot, so the kick to Merz was unintentional and should not have been a penalty.
There was also some question about whether the clock should have been stopped, allowing Covenant to set up for the penalty kick.
Covenant’s second goal came just over a minute into the second half when a WMC player tried to clear the ball and it found its way into his own team’s net.
“It was just a fluke,” Hulings said about the second goal. “It showed it just wasn’t our night to play.”
Hulings said his team was upset after the first goal, resulting in a less than effective second half.
“After that goal was called the way it was, we lost our focus,” Hulings said. “I lost my focus and it cost us the game.”
Covenant Christian’s Jared Minderhoud added an insurance goal midway through the second half, putting the Chargers up 3-0.
WMC’s Eric Bourdo broke the shutout with a goal on a penalty kick with 2:40 left in the contest.
While Hulings was clearly upset with the call on the first goal, he credited the Chargers for playing a great game.
“Covenant Christian is a tremendous team,” said Hulings, whose team lost all three games this year against Covenant Christian, a River Valley Conference rival. “Their defense shut us down. They had an answer for everything we tried. I wish them the best of luck. I want to see them win a state championship.”