Top-ranked Grand Rapids Catholic Central stifles No. 4 Flint Powers, 1-0, for first state title
(Photo Courtesy: Michigan High School Athletic Association)
ROCHESTER HILLS — There are so many life lessons learned when a team is in the midst of a magical run.
There’s the dealing with pressure of the increased magnitude of the next game and the target on your back of being one of the favorites in the postseason.
For Grand Rapids Catholic Central, which took over the top spot in the Division 3 coaches association Top 20 rankings on Oct. 9, the Cougars lived up to their top billing through the season’s final day.
Thanks to a first-half goal, Catholic Central captured its first MHSAA Division 3 State Final championship in its very first appearance in the title match, posting a 1-0 victory over fourth-ranked Flint Powers Catholic at Rochester Stoney Creek High School.
“It was a challenge with so many good teams out there. But there were some life lessons about being No. 1 and playing like it. A lot of life lessons just about getting here,” smiled Catholic Central coach Brian Hughes. “I told them before the game that I didn’t really care if we won today or lost. They already won based on the (journey) to get here and the fact that we had to beat some really good teams to play in the state finals. They did it together. No one individual accomplished this.”
Catholic Central had never won a regional or been to the Final Four before this season. In fact, the Cougars have only recently dented the rankings the past three years.
“We’ve come a long ways,” said Hughes. “This group of senior and juniors have really done a great job leading us to this moment. But it was a team effort. Everyone did their part.”
Now, Grand Rapids Catholic Central is firmly cemented on Michigan’s high school soccer map thanks to its narrow victory over the Chargers, who previously won the 2013 Division 3 crown.
Catholic Central (19-1-4) defeated four ranked teams in its final four games of the postseason and outscored its six postseason opponents by a 21-4 margin. Over their final four games, the Cougars defeated No. 2 Hudsonville Unity Christian (4-1), No. 8 Paw Paw (3-2), No. 12 Charlevoix (3-1) and No. 4 Powers Catholic (1-0).
Without generating any type of an attack during the first 14 minutes, Catholic Central struck gold on its very first shot attempt of the contest.
Junior forward Langston Cooper broke free down the right side, beat his mark and slipped a cross into the penalty box. Sophomore forward Jim O’Neal volleyed in the cross from six yards out past Powers goalkeeper Brendan Tilden with 25:29 to play.
Both teams traded off 10 shots in the contest, with Catholic Central holding a 7-6 edge with shots directly on frame. O’Neal’s sixth goal of the campaign proved to be the difference maker.
“I was in the right position. But to be honest it was all Langston. He did all the work down the side to get the cross over to the middle,” said O’Neal “It was unusual to score on our first shot, but we’ll take it any way we can get it. We knew we had the talent to do this — state champions.”
Defensively, Catholic Central routinely shut down several of Powers Catholic’s attempts. Anchored by senior center back Josh Steffes, a Division I recruit, and junior goalkeeper Noah Hughes, CC left the Chargers (17-4-3) empty-handed the whole game.
“We’ve had some good talent in the past — all the talent in the world. We just could never get it done before,” said Steffes. “We knew since the beginning of the season that this was possible. We didn’t feel any pressure. We just knew we could win each game.”
Although Powers Catholic had four double-digit goal scorers, Catholic Central blanked the Chargers foursome of Bryan Lendzion, Chase Knoblock, Steven Tuttle and Mason Smith, who came in with a combined 52 goals on the season.
Powers had outscored its six previous postseason opponents by a commanding 27-2 margin with four shutouts in the playoffs and 11 total clean sheets on the season. Overall, the Chargers held an 83-19 scoring differential heading into the championship tilt.
“I am proud of this group for what they accomplished the past few years,” continued Rowe. “The seniors set the tone. We’ve won league championships, districts and regionals over the past (four) years). They did a good job of making it here. We had some chances. If we would have put one in early in the game things might have been different. (Catholic Central) is a very good defensive team. (Their) tall kid, No. 11 (Josh Steffes) had them very organized and they had him shadowing our best offensive player the whole game.
“We had a great run, but to be honest I don’t care with we were ranked fourth or 104th. I don’t think the guys are satisfied for just being here,” said Powers Catholic coach Tony Rowe. “We have a ton of juniors coming back and I know they’ll remember what it feels like to lose this game.”
Powers Catholic came out and controlled play for most of the first half, including a shot by Knoblock only 20 seconds into the game, which CC net minder Noah Hughes leapt high to snare the threat out of the air.
The Chargers just could not penetrate Catholic Central’s defense, which yielded just 20 goals over 24 games. Hughes picked up six saves for his team’s 11th clean sheet.
Tilden finished with six saves for Powers Catholic, including twice where he had to punch aside consecutive shots in the second half by CC’s Fernando Garcia.
School 1 1 OT OT SO F
Flint Powers Catholic 1 0 x x x 0
Grand Rapids C.C. 0 0 x x x 1
Total Shots: Powers 10; Catholic Central 10
Shots On Frame: Catholic Central 7; Powers 6
Saves: Noah Hughes, GRCC 6; Brendan Tilden, FPC 6
Fouls Against: GRCC 11; FPC 11
Offsides: GRCC 2; FPC 0