BOYS SOCCER: Late goals lift Ann Arbor Skyline to D1 championship-game win over East Kentwood, second state title
NOVI — Ann Arbor Skyline does not boast any players that entered the state tournament with dozens of goals to their credit.
In fact, the Eagles didn’t even have a single player with double digits for goals this season.
It didn’t matter.
Tenth-ranked Skyline, missing six players to injuries that were in the regular rotation earlier in the year, stunned five-time state champion East Kentwood, 2-0, Saturday in the Division 1 state finals at Novi High School.
Junior forward Chris Emerson scored off a bicycle kick attempt with 9:42 remaining for the game-winner and junior forward Bryce Schaner added an insurance tally 58 seconds later to lift Skyline above the rest of the Division 1 field.
“It was reactionary,” said Emerson of his fourth goal of the campaign. “The ball came to me and I just tried to get a foot on it towards the goal. When I saw that it went in — I was just so happy. We kept working and working for it and then we scored two (back-to-back).”
Chris Morgan, who started Skyline’s program in 2010 when the school opened its doors, guided his team to its second state title and first since 2013. The relentless work rate paid off in the final 10 minutes against a school that has won more D-1 titles than any other program over the past two decades.
“(Emerson is) a kid that works so hard, and probably doesn’t score a lot. But he came through with that goal for us,” said Morgan. “Then we score about a minute later. I don’t think many people expected that because we’re not a (high-powered) offensive team.”
Kyri Wixom, who has some D-I and D-II college offers as a goalkeeper, made three saves for his 14th shutout of the season and fifth in six postseason games. Skyline yielded just one goal in the state tournament and scored nine times, while the Eagles (17-4-2) outscored the opposition 53-11 over 23 games.
Skyline was ranked in the top five entering the state tournament the past two years, including No. 1 last season. The Eagles made sure that an early exit didn’t happen again this season — even with all of the injuries.
“We didn’t want to get blown up in districts like the past two years. We even had an undefeated season crushed because we lost in the districts the past two years,” said Wixom. “This means so much to us as players. We worked so hard and its been a crazy ride with all of those injuries and with all of the good teams in D-1. We still came out on top. It’s unbelievable.”
On the game winner, junior Jamie Palms sent a long serve down into the penalty box, with sophomore Gabe Kellman flicking the ball over to Emerson, who with his back to the goal sent the shot over his shoulder while turning around for the close-range goal.
Junior Oskar Shiomi-Jensen set up the second goal with his cross sailing over to Schaner, who buried his eighth goal of the season inside the far post.
Skyline outshot East Kentwood 10-5, including 6-3 with shots on frame.
Skyline’s back line of Tobin Brenner, Marco Althoen, Omar Hassan and the aforementioned Palms rarely allowed the Falcons a quality scoring chance.
“Other than cards, those guys on our back line rarely came off the field in the tournament, really all season we didn’t sub that much in the back,” said Morgan. “Our defense has been great all season. They are the heart and soul to this team. We couldn’t have done this without them. We are not a high-scoring team like we were in 2013. We’ve had to fight for goals. Our defense gave us a chance.”
East Kentwood captured state titles in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2016 and have reached the Final Four eight times over 13 seasons. The defensive-minded Falcons couldn’t get untracked offensively.
“We knew this was going to be a defensive-type game, a 1-0, 2-1, 2-0 type of game,” said East Kentwood coach John Conlon.
“We fell asleep on that set piece and Skyline is very good on set pieces and you have got to give them credit,” added Conlon. “We talked about it quite a bit. The one set piece we kind of (didn’t mark on) that was a difference. Soccer is a game of inches and Skyline won the inches when it mattered most.”
East Kentwood (17-4-4) outscored its opposition 9-3 in the postseason and 43-17 overall playing a tough schedule.
“It’s hard to generate much against their team and we don’t give up much either,” added Conlon. “It’s a heavyweight bout and we’re both landing punches. They finally landed a couple there in the end and we couldn’t get one off.”