East Lansing wins second straight D-2 title with OT win over Cranbrook
Brighton — East Lansing isn’t a stranger to close games, let alone the state finals.
The Trojans under Nick Archer have made six trips to the state finals, and won four of them. They also had to win in overtime against Mason in the Division 2 semifinals to make it a seventh.
That experience helped East Lansing capture its fifth state championship in a 4-3 overtime win against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook-Kingswood on Saturday.
“They’re all special. It’s a brand new group of kids. Even though we’ve been here before, it’s special. We’ve been here seven times, and five (titles) is nice,” Archer said.
“This team has an internal strength to never give up. We always said ‘we’re going to come back. We’re going to do it somehow’, and this group did.”
The Trojans (24-3) had to overcome three unanswered goals by the Cranes (19-3-1) in the second half and looked to senior DeJuan Jones to accomplish it.
With 6:33 left in the game, Jones offered a cross to senior midfielder Elmedin Celovic who headed in the tying 3-3 goal.
Then, in overtime, Jones took it upon himself to put his team in the lead.
“Once I controlled the ball, I was looking to get a shot there because there was space. I knew if it could get enough leg in it the ball would find the back of the net,” the Michigan State commit said.
Jones dribbled in between three defenders, and offered a shot from 25-yards out that gave the Trojans a 4-3 with 7:51 left in overtime.
East Lansing started the game hot as well as Celovic sent a shot from 15-yards out that rolled into net for an early 1-0 lead 38 seconds into the contest. Junior Zach Lane added to the lead on a penalty kick as well.
Right before the half, however, The Cranes wouldn’t go quietly as they received a crucial goal with six seconds remaining left in the half.
Junior forward Ken Kernen recovered a loose ball 20-yards away from the goal. After controlling the ball, Kernen spun the ball to the far side for a 2-1 lead.
“It was a beautiful goal. Kenny has stepped up his game, and offered a nice shot. That was a momentum booster for us was huge” Crane’s coach Chad O’Kulich said.
The Cranes continued the momentum in the second half getting two unanswered goals, one from Kernen with 25:14 to play and another from sophomore forward Cullin Irvine for a 3-2 lead with 15:41 to play.
Saturday’s game was the first appearance the Cranes have made in the state finals, and O’Kulich believes his squad can build on this positive momentum.
“The senior leadership has been outstanding. The chemistry of this team is incredible, and it’s a credit to them. Guys like Paul Holmes, and Stephen Luckoff have left a legacy (of making the state finals) that we’ll try to live up to every year,” he said.
“We walked up here with our heads held high, and we’ll walk out the same way. The positive culture that we’ve had this season, I’m just grateful to have coached a great group of kids through the highs and the lows.”
Though this wasn’t the first time East Lansing has won a state championship, it was the first back-to-back championship squad in school history. And according to Jones, that was the legacy his team wanted to leave.
“As seniors we didn’t want to go out on a loss. We wanted to make sure we could leave the field as winners. We wanted to keep fighting, and we wanted to bring home another state championship.”