MAPLE CITY — Buckley kept it close for a half.
Then Leland poured it on.
The Comets scored five second-half goals Friday to earn a 6-1 victory that clinched their second straight Division 4 district soccer championship.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead after the first 40 minutes as Buckley packed in its defense, Leland struck three times in the first seven minutes of the second half to take control.
“We played a lot more in the corner and wide and got some balls slotted in to open players to finish in the middle,” said Comets forward Noah Fetterolf, who had a goal and two assists.
The Comets advance to play the winner of this afternoon’s matchup between North Muskegon and Muskegon Catholic Central in Tuesday’s 7 p.m. regional game at Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Leland defeated North Muskegon 6-2 this season, but fell to Catholic Central.
“We lost 1-0 to them, but I think they’re definitely a beatable team,” Fetterolf said. “We just didn’t play very well. We were off.”
On Friday, the Comets struck 1:08 into the second half on a Henrik Ohr goal set up by Fetterolf. Just 1:18 later, Leland was up 3-0, as Cameron Stowe cashed in on the rebound of a Fetterolf shot.
“We got that quick one in the second half,” Leland coach Joe Burda said. “We had tons of chances in the first half. It could have been 6-0 at halftime, but we had 10-yard shots we just couldn’t finish.”
Omar Roman’s goal in the 47th minute put the Comets (19-3-1) up 4-0 and in control, even before the Bears were handicapped by a red card to Jake Burgess that left them a player short the rest of the game.
“The red card really hurt us,” Buckley coach John Vermilya said. “The center ref felt one of our players whacked a kid from behind. I didn’t see it, but what can you do? He’s not going to change the call and you have to respect the decision. That skewed the number a little bit to play almost the whole second half down a guy.”
The Bears scored with 20:46 left on a penalty-kick shot by goaltender Tyler Welch. It was his fourth goal of the season.
“He had at least 30 saves today,” Vermilya said. “It was unreal. Maybe the official statistician only has 22 or 23, but if he’s not in goal, this game is over by halftime. He’s tough as nails.”
Leland outshot Buckley 26-8.
The Comets would tack on goals by Ohr, again assisted by Fetterolf, and Tony Mosqueda closed out the scoring with a goal off a corner kick.
“Typically, we play up and down,” Burda said. “But when they pack it in like that, you have to play laterally, from side to side, and get their guys moving side to side with it and hopefully a lane inside opens up and you’ve got a spot to shoot. Otherwise, it’s just trying to shoot through legs and deflections.
Leland scored in the game’s fourth minute off a Michael Osorio pass that ended in a Fetterolf volley for his 18th goal of the season.
“I was giddy that it was 1-0 at halftime,” Vermilya said. “Our first game of the year, we played them and lost 5-0. Our second time we played them, we lost 4-1 at home. We were super excited because we scored a goal against Leland. They roll everybody.”
“We have to camp out up top and pass the ball around, look for an opening. I don’t like playing that game going into a big game next week.”
Buckley finishes the season 9-7-3 for its first winning season that coach Vermilya can remember.
“That first year, with the core of this team, were were 0-18,” Vermilya said. “And we played teams like Leland, which mercied us twice. Traverse City Christian, mercied us twice. Suttons Bay mercied us once. They call it a mercy, but no one has mercy.”
Keeping the core of that team together, the Bears were 2-16 last season.
“Then to go 9-7-3 and go to the final in districts, that’s why you saw tears out here,” Vermilya said. “For me, they’re tears of joy. I can’t be more proud of our guys. We overachieved. We had the first winning season at Buckley in I don’t know how long. It’s the first time we’ve been in a district final since the early 2000s. For us to get this far was big.”