By Steve Gunn

MUSKEGON – In a lot of ways, the North Muskegon and Western Michigan Christian soccer teams couldn’t be more evenly matched.LSJ Logo incert

Both came into their Division 4 district tournament showdown on Monday ranked high in the state – North Muskegon at No. 4 and WMC at No. 5.

Justice Sikkema looks up for the North Muskegon possession. Photo/Randy Rikse

Justice Sikkema looks up for the North Muskegon possession. Photo/Randy Riksen

In a previous meeting earlier this season, the teams tied 1-1.

But North Muskegon has Justice Sikkema, one of the most electrifying offensive players in the state, and that made the difference.

Sikkema scored twice and the Norse walked away with a dramatic come-from-behind 3-1 victory over the Warriors on WMC’s home field.

North Muskegon, now 15-1-2 on the season, moves on to play Muskegon Catholic Central in Wednesday’s district semifinals at MCC.

Western Michigan Christian finished the season 14-5-1.

“We knew we weren’t going to keep them to zero – WMC is too good,” said an excited Sikkema after the game. “We knew we were going to have to fight back and come with our complete 100 percent ‘A’ game and not leave anything on the field, and that’s what we did.”

After the game, one North Muskegon played yelled to his teammates that they had to turn their attention to the next game.

But Norse Coach Jeremy Tjapkes replied, “You can celebrate all night with this one. We’ll worry about Catholic tomorrow.”

“Soccer is about memories and enjoying the moment,” Tjapkes said later. “If you never take time to enjoy the moments then they’re not worth anything. Tonight we’re going to let them enjoy this one.”

Dylan Mines springs for the WMC head ball. Photo/Randy Riksen

Dylan Mines springs for the WMC head ball. Photo/Randy Riksen

The game was scoreless until the 16:12 mark of the first half, when WMC’s Hayden Hubers worked a shot through a crowd and into the goal, giving the Warriors a 1-0 lead.

North Muskegon tied the game almost three minutes later when Sikkema broke in alone on the WMC goal, hesitated a brief moment, then trickled a slow shot past the Warrior keeper.

The score was 1-1 at halftime, with the Norse having a 6-4 edge in shots on goal.

North Muskegon took control in the second half, keeping the ball largely in the WMC zone and missing several good chances to score.

The game-winning goal came with 15:43 remaining, when North Muskegon’s Zach Burdon broke in toward the WMC goal with the ball, trailed almost step-for-step by a Warrior defender. The referee ruled that Burdon was taken down, giving the Norse a penalty shot from inside the box.

Dylan Hoffman calmly cashed in on the shot, giving North Muskegon a 2-1 lead.

WMC Coach Dave Hulings questioned the call that led to the penalty shot, but was careful to say that it didn’t cause his team to lose.

“It was two boys going after a ball that they were going after all night,” Hulings said. “Nobody had a scoring opportunity, they were shoulder-to-shoulder. I let the refs make the call. That’s what they make the big bucks for.

“That’s not what lost the game. It was two good teams and somebody had to lose. They played better. I’m not trying to make excuses.”

Sikkema put the icing on the cake for the Norse just 18 seconds later, scoring on a breakaway to make the score 3-1.

The Warriors applied heavy pressure toward the end of the game, but North Muskegon goalkeeper Ian Collins, who played the second half, made several big saves to preserve the lead and the win.

North Muskegon had an overall 13-8 advantage in shots on goal.

“Hats off to Dave (Hulings) and his team for having a fantastic year,” Tjapkes said. “It’s unfortunate that these two teams had to play in the first round of districts, but to be the best, you have to beat the best.”