EAST LANSING – Since the MHSAA transitioned from classes to divisions in boys soccer in 1997, no team has won back-to-back-to-back state championships.
The East Lansing Trojans moved one step closer on Saturday afternoon.
The two-time defending Division 2 champions captured their fourth straight district title with a 3-2 victory over Haslett.
“Of course we have the highest expectations possible,” said senior midfielder Zach Lane, who scored the game-winning goal, his second of the game, with less than 10 minutes left. “We want to be the best team we possibly can, and if that involves winning a state championship, then, so it is.”
No. 5-ranked East Lansing will take its 19-3-1 record into Cedar Springs High School on Tuesday for a regional semifinal showdown with No. 6-ranked Spring Lake. The Trojans sent the Lakers home in the regional finals last year and defeated them in the state title game in 2013.
“Since we kicked them out of the tournament the past two years, I’m sure they’ll have some extra fire in them,” Lane said. “We know they’re a good team because they’ve put up a tough fight the past few years.
“It’s become a postseason rivalry. A game I really look forward to.”
Through the first 44 minutes of the district championship, it looked as if East Lansing was going to waltz into the regional tournament. Lane scored the Trojans’ first goal with 1:24 remaining in the first half. Then, less than two minutes into the second half, Sam Lebbie danced through the Vikings’ (9-11-1) defense before his strike put East Lansing up 2-0.
At that point, Haslett hadn’t had much success in the attacking third and the Trojans nearly missed on several scoring opportunities.
“I was confident,” Lebbie said. “It felt good (to go up two goals).
“There’s never a dead time in the game, so we had to keep playing.”
The Vikings, however, weren’t phased by the two-goal deficit. Senior Harry DeHaven said his team wasn’t quite yet in panic mode because they’ve been in similar situations this year.
And, with a little help from East Lansing, Haslett was able to work its way back.
The Trojans’ lead quickly dwindled to one when a Haslett player was fouled in the penalty box by keeper Chris Wallace during a corner kick. DeHaven stepped up and nailed the penalty shot. Three minutes later, DeHaven put home the equalizer after Gabriel Millian’s shot hit off Wallace and deflected straight to the foot of the forward.
But after numerous scoring opportunities by East Lansing failed to end in positive results for much of the second half, Lane was able to put away the game-winner from an Ian Carroll-assisted pass.
“It just got ripped away,” DeHaven said. “We fought back and then got too frantic. Then they scored.
“We wanted that one, especially for our seniors.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.