By JAMES COOK
BIG RAPIDS — Someone new was going to be in the Division 4 state title game.
Two teams looking for their school's first state finals berth met on a cold, wet field in Big Rapids Wednesday, and Grand Rapids Covenant Christian earned the right to move on to Saturday's championship match with a 2-0 victory over Leland.
The Comets end of their most successful years in program history with a 25-4 record and their first trip to the semifinals in about three decades.
"We haven't had to play from behind often this season," Leland coach Joe Burda said. "We got lucky against North Muskegon in the regional semi. We weren't planning on doing it again. We wanted to get one or two early. They scored that first goal, and it's a huge momentum swing."
The game's first 30 minutes were played to a virtual standstill, with each team recording several scoring opportunities, but each defense and goalie stepping up to thwart the chance.
That changed Jordan VanOostenbrugge rocketed a free kick from about 25 yards out over the Leland defensive wall and into the upper left corner of the net.
"I was thinking that far post was kind of open," VanOostenbrugge said. "The goalkeeper was standing in the middle, so I was planning on hitting it far post. I got a good kick on it and just found the back of the net. I just let it rip."
That totally changed the game's outlook and Leland was suddenly behind, although the Comets were able to generate scoring opportunities on many occasions, but not get the ball in the net.
In the second half's fifth minute, the Chargers' Corbin Prince was able to slip in and faked right before delivering a shot to the left to give the Grand Rapids club a 2-0 advantage.
"I'm proud of the guys," Covenant coach Mike Noorman said. "They've made a lot of games look comfortable when other teams played really well. Leland is a very skilled team. They made us work really hard for this win."
It might be hard to characterize either team as comfortable, however.
With the game-time temperature hovering around 40 degrees, winds gusting in the 20-30 mph range and a heavy mist falling through most of the second half, the estimated crowd of 700 and the players on the field felt it.
"I hand it to those guys," Burda said. "They came out ready to play. We didn't finish our chances we had and didn't execute a couple of things in our game plan. But I think we fought hard. They had one well-hit ball on the free kick. We tried to minimize our mistakes. And like I said, two mistakes, two goals and Grand Rapids is moving on."
Burda had several scouting reports on the Chargers, all of which said to expect a very physical team to show up. While the contest had its physical moments, it wasn't as much so as the reports predicted.
"We were ready for that," Burda said. "It was actually quite a bit less physical than we were expecting. Maybe we came in a little intimidated, too. Maybe we didn't expect it to be as clean a game as it was. They were starting to back down, waiting for a hit and we weren't getting hit. It caused us not to do what we were planning on doing."
Leland goalkeeper Mike Farese made many saves to keep the Comets in it as they tried to come back.
"We were trying to get deep into the corners and for whatever reason, we tried to punch it down the middle," Burda said. "It was completely opposite from what we tried to do. And the time we got down there, we were creating chances, but we didn't finish them."
Covenant Christian (19-4-1) heads to its first state final Saturday against Hamtramck Frontier International, which beat Genesee Christian 2-0.
"I thought back when they were ninth-graders that we could go this far," Noorman said of his team that features 11 seniors, 11 juniors and only three underclassmen. "I was looking forward to this year for quite awhile."
Leland loses five seniors, including Dylan Jolliffe, Will Gauthier, Matt Fleis, Ian Duvall and Luke Nesbitt.
"The defense really stepped up," Noorman said. "Leland has a really talented player in (Jolliffe) and a very good supporting cast."