By Butch Harmon
Special for Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – The soccer season ended Saturday similarly to how it started for Mason.
The big difference was that the Bulldogs were hoisting the Division 2 championship trophy at the end.
Mason earned its fourth boys soccer championship with a 3-2 victory against Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern in the Division 2 Final at Comstock Park. The teams played to a 2-2 tie through regulation and overtime before Mason outshot Forest Hills Northern 4-3 in a shootout.
Mason almost didn’t make it to overtime as Forest Hills Northern scored a late goal with 2:32 remaining in regulation to take a 2-1 lead. With time running down, however, Mason turned up the pressure in a frenzied effort to tie the match. That effort paid off when, with 38 seconds left, Christian Jordan knocked a shot in during a scramble in front of the Forest Hills Northern net that tied the game.
“We just went full out,” Jordan said. “After they scored to take the lead I thought we were about to lose. We just attacked the net. We made a play called number six, and Caleb Graham took a shot on goal. It bounced right to me, and I just poked it in. When I scored that goal, I just ran to our student section and was pointing at them. It was incredible.”
Fellow senior captain Holden Dippel had a little more confidence in the comeback than his teammate did.
“I knew we could come back,” Dippel said. “We’ve been down and have come back before this year. It happened to us in our first game of the season against Williamston. We fell behind by a goal and came back. We started the season this way, and we ended it with a comeback.”
To complete the comeback, however, the Bulldogs needed to go through a pair of 10-minute overtime periods that were scoreless, sending the match into the penalty-kick shootout.
Dippel gave Mason the early lead when he scored in the first round after Forest Hills Northern missed its first penalty kick.
Both teams scored in the second round of the shootout with Travis Barrington scoring for FHN and John Kingman answering for Mason.
In the third round Forest Hills Northern missed again while Mason’s Tristan Pease scored to put Mason up 3-1 with two rounds left.
FHN then cut the margin to 3-2 on a goal from Hunter Barrington, and Mason was unable to answer. Northern’s Diego Compean kept the Huskies’ hopes alive with another score, but Mason’s Lirim Shefkiu then scored the deciding goal, setting off a wild Mason celebration for its first soccer title since winning Division 2 in 1997.
“It feels so good,” Dippel said. “We’ve been talking forever about getting a state title. This is just insane. To win it in our senior year like this is just crazy.”
Mason coach Nick Binder knew exactly what his players were feeling, as he was a member of that title team in 1997.
“As a coach I feel so great for these kids,” Binder said. “I’ve known a lot of these kids since they were 5 and 6 years old. This is exciting for the whole community. It’s always been a goal of this team to win a state title. Growing up playing soccer in Mason, it’s always a goal to win a state title.”
The title was hard-earned as Mason needed to battle from behind for almost the entire match.
Forest Hills Northern took the first lead at 15:13 of the first half when junior Evan VanNortwick scored.
Mason came back to tie the match at the 31:15 mark of the second half when Jordan scored on a header, making the score 1-1.
The two teams then battled it out as the second half wound down. Forest Hills Northern applied some heavy pressure late, and with 2:32 remaining in regulation Travis Barrington scored on a header giving the Huskies the 2-1 lead and pulling them within seconds of a first-ever soccer title.
“We just had 38 seconds to go but they got one on us,” Forest Hills Northern coach Daniel Siminski said. “It was a scramble in front of the net, and it’s hard to describe. (Mason) earned it. It is what it is. I have no regrets because the kids did all they could do. There were 118 teams that started the tournament in Division 2, and we ended up playing on the final day. We knew our season was going to end one way or another.”
Forest Hills Northern ended the season with a 22-2-3 overall record. Saturday’s appearance was its first in an MHSAA Boys Soccer Final.
Mason ended with a 24-3 overall record.
“Our guys just kept battling,” Binder said. “Even when we were down at halftime, they believed. They believed at the end of regulation and they believed in the shootout. Their confidence never wavered.”
Click for the full box score.
PHOTOS: (Top) A Mason player looks for an opening with Cameron Leitz (12) blocking the way. (Middle) Forest Hills Northern’s Hayden Strobel heads the ball while surrounded by Mason defenders.