CADILLAC — Houghton Lake had to not only overcome a team that'd been its bugaboo, but even some added adversity.
Bobcats starting defender Kelli Ignat left the field in an ambulance with 30:42 remaining in Tuesday's Division 4 soccer regional semifinal at Cadillac.
Then Houghton Lake had to refocus on what the remaining Bobcat players could control — protecting a 2-1 lead and finally breaking through against an Elk Rapids team that had eliminated them in this same round the last two years.
"That's the hardest thing I've had to ask a team to do," Houghton Lake head coach Darren Barnes said, "is to step up after something like that."
During a tense 25-minute break in the action where Ignat was tended to by multiple trainers and coaches and eventually a North Flight ambulance transported the senior defender to Munson Cadillac Hospital.
Barnes said after the game Ignat, a senior, appeared to be in stable condition.
Ignat and the Elks' Shelby Scott ran head-on into each other in a violent collision as Ignat was dribbling the ball up field with her down and ran squarely into Scott, who was given a yellow card.
"We need to focus on soccer right now," a Bobcats player yelled as the team huddled near the sideline during the long break. "That is what Kelli would want."
The Bobcats broke their huddle before the game resumed with a chant of "For Kelli!"
The contest contained some added intrigue, as the Elks had won each of the last two meetings in the regional semifinals.
Barnes said he was worried that if the Bobcats lost this one as well — when Houghton Lake came in ranked No. 7 and Elk Rapids No. 12 — that the idea of the Elks being the Bobcats bogeyman would creep into the minds of the program's players.
"We've been so close the last couple years, and you wonder that," Barnes said. "Then we did it this year."
The Elks beat Houghton Lake 5-4 in a shootout on Cadillac's field last season and 2-1 in Big Rapids in 2017.
The Bobcats (21-2) move on to play top-ranked North Muskegon (24-3) in Thursday's regional championship match at Muskegon Western Michigan Christian.
Houghton Lake's Alexis Souder broke away for an early score, 7:35 into the game. Maddy Roll picked up an assist on the goal, where Souder snuck the ball under a charging Drew Antcliff and caught the right side of the net.
Elk Rapids (15-8-1) answered at 24:07 on Scott's goal, assisted by Kendall Brown.
Brown saved a Bobcats goal with 10:45 left to preserve a 1-1 tie going into halftime.
"It was an amazing game," Barnes said. "Back and forth. Great effort by the girls."
That tie didn't last long, as Houghton Lake struck 1:04 into the second half on Lauren Souder's goal.
"My girls were flat before (the injury)," Elks head coach Andrea Krakow said. "Their two goals were our mistakes and weren't good mistakes."
The Elks put a good deal of pressure on Houghton Lake over the final 30:42.
On the Bobcats sideline, Roll — who aggravated an injury and came out to rest — looked at the scoreboard that mistakenly had Elk Rapids listed as the home team and said, "I was freaking out. I thought they had two (goals). Then I remembered we had two."
Antcliff made six saves for the Elks, who graduate eight seniors — Antcliff, Abigail Riffell, Amanda Trierweiler, Brown, Bryanna King, Olivia Travis, Kyla Pryde and Maran Huggins.