BOYS SOCCER: Clarkston stuns previously-unbeaten Grand Blanc for district crown
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BY DAN STICKRADT
DAVISON — Grant Gotaas has a theory when facing a penalty kick shooter.
“You just kind of watch their hands and feet and try to figure out which way they might shoot,” said the Clarkston junior goalkeeper.
Gotaas faced a penalty kick in the third minute Saturday of the Wolves’ district finals match with fourth-ranked Grand Blanc at Davison High School. He dove to his right to stop Grand Blanc’s Brian Steele to keep the game scoreless.
The stop proved to be crucial because Gotaas and Clarkston, ranked honorable mention in the polls, did not yield a single goal and went on to stun the previously-unbeaten Bobcats, 1-0, to claim a Division 1 district championship.
Clarkston captured its first district title since 2007, the year the Wolves finished as the Division 1 state runner-up, and advanced to Tuesday’s 7 p.m. regional semifinal at Rochester against unranked Rochester Adams, a team that Clarkston split with during the regular season.
Grand Blanc, the state runner-up in 2012, finished the season with a 17-1-3 record and suffered its only loss of the campaign.
“We feel like we have the talent to make the run,” added Gotaas. “We believe in each other and our goal was to win the district championship.”
Grand Blanc outshot Clarkston by a 21-10 margin, including 10-5 with shots directly on frame, and even had a 6-4 edge with cornerkicks but could not convert during 80 minutes of play. The Bobcats could not find the back of the net, often frustrated by Clarkston’s stingy and physical defense.
“They put a lot of pressure on us, and then we got into a nice flow for a really long time. We just couldn’t finish,” said veteran Grand Blanc coach Greg Kehler. “I know (Clarkston) had a chance to see us against (Plymouth) Salem in a shootout a couple of weeks ago and (Gotass) might have known which way we were going with the kick. In that situation, you pick your best shot and stick with it. He made a great save and played well the whole game. Hats off to Clarkston for playing a good game.”
With extra attackers, Grand Blanc had a flurry of balls into the penalty box during the final 10 minutes. Clarkston senior defender Mitch McCord cleared a ball away from two yards off the goal line with five seconds left during a goal-mouth scramble to put the nail in the Bobcats’ coffin and complete the upset win.
“When you have a bunch of seniors playing for their lives, players that have worked really hard since July, amazing things can happen and it did today,” offered first-year Clarkston coach Curtis Payment. “The kids really trust each other and you saw it today. The way they just covered for each other. They never stopped working up until the last second. We beat an amazing team in Grand Blanc today. I think if we played Grand Blanc 10 times, I would be happy with two wins. We beat one of the best programs in the state today.”
Meanwhile, Clarkston netted the game’s only goal with 1:11 left in the first half. Zach McCallum’s long serve from the right side sailed into the box, Ryan Kissel flicked the ball through traffic and Jared D’Autremont cashed in a close-range shot inside the left post from six yards in front of the goal.
It was only 2:30 into the contest when Grand Blanc’s Nicholas Berklich collided with Gotaas and the Bobcats were awarded the penalty kick. Gotass stopped the ensuing shot by Steele, the rebound clanked off the goal post and Gotaas was able to halt a third shot seconds later before the Wolves harmlessly cleared the ball out of the danger zone.
Gotaas finished with 10 saves for his team’s seventh shutout. Junior Jacob Schroer made four saves for Grand Blanc.
“I don’t know if it was the pressure of us being undefeated or what, but we had chances. I have to credit the Clarkston keeper and their defense for finding a way to clear the ball every time we threatened them,” said Kehler. “This is how tournament soccer goes. The type of team we were this year with a lot of experience. We made the nice run last year, but this year it ended a little early. I thought we played a great game. We moved the ball around well, switched the fields, but we did everything right except score.”
(Dan Stickradt is Senior Editor for Digital Daily www.northoaklandsports.com and The Real Deal sports and coupons magazine, as well as a freelance writer for multiple media outlets, including State Champs! High School Sports Show website. He is a 20-year veteran sports journalist based in Oakland County, Mich. He can be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @LocalSportsFans.)