Unity Christian escapes with 2-1 victory over Paw Paw to advance to D-3 semifinals
Grand Rapids – A surprising red card signaled both hope and despair for Paw Paw in its boys’ soccer Division 3 regional final matchup against Hudsonville Unity Christian on Thursday night at Grand Rapids South Christian.
Paw Paw’s Ricardo Vazquez scored on a brilliant header with his back facing the goal during the 66th minute of the contest. It forged a 1-1 tie and provided the Redskins with a glimmer of hope.
Despair followed moments later.
In his exuberance after scoring, Vazquez was given a red card, prompting his immediate ejection and forcing the Redskins to play a man short for the remainder of the second half. It was ruled he kicked a Unity Christian player following his goal-scoring celebration, resulting in a second yellow card.
It was Vazquez’s hot-tempered reaction to that penalty that resulted in his dismissal. He’d first received a yellow card at the outset of the second half for wildly objecting to a foul call from the head referee.
"Fortunately, I think their kid helped us out a little bit," Unity Christian coach Randy Heethuis said after the Crusaders regained momentum late in the second half and scored in the 80th minute to advance in the state tournament.
"We were playing a man up after that."
It was the momentum shift Unity Christian (23-1) needed to push through its less-than-stellar performance. The Crusaders dominated the first half, seizing a 1-0 lead, while Paw Paw forced the action in the second half.
"Frankly, they out-played us a good share of that game. I didn’t think we were at our best," Heethuis said.
Unity Christian had a pair of shining moments in the contest.
Jared Timmer put the Crusaders ahead 1-0 in the 11th minute on a perfectly placed free kick which curled around a wall of players on the right side of the box and froze Paw Paw goalkeeper Trent Heidema.
The Crusaders rang another shot off the crossbar in the 12th minute and nearly scored again just before intermission.
"The wall was moved to the left a little bit. I thought I could bend it around and put it on the near post," Timmer said. "He didn’t move. It’s a great feeling. It’s what you visualize as a player. We run that about 15 times in practice. Out of 15 times, I probably (hit that spot) about half of the time in practice."
Carson Brinks scored the game-winning goal for the Crusaders, which won the Division 2 title two years ago. He cleaned up a rebound in front of the net following a cross from teammate Tate Rozeveld.
"Lucky bounce. Jared (Timmer) dribbled it down the sideline," Brinks said of what led to the deciding goal. "I just had to finish it. He did the hard part."
Unity Christian is seeking another state title after being ousted in district action last year.
Heethuis said his team, which settled into a defensive mode in the second half, will need to be sharper Wednesday in its state semifinal matchup.
"The first half, it was nice to score that goal early. We had another ball go off the crossbar and another where the defender cleared early just before halftime. We could’ve had three goals in the first half," he said.
"The second half, they created the momentum."
The Crusaders regained it just in time to avoid despair and reignite their title hopes.
"If we lose here, we lose the whole thing," Brinks said. "It was a great win for us tonight."
Unity Christian finished with eight shots on goal, including five in the second half. Paw Paw, which lost Will Gooding and Cameron Kirkpatrick to injuries for large portions of the second half, recorded its three shots in the second half.