HOLT — A game played in ugly conditions became beautiful.
Especially when you mount an epic comeback from a 2-0 deficit playing into wind-driven rain on a soggy field.
Traverse City West scored twice in the second half and then Tony Gallegos’ goal capped off the near-miraculous, come-from-behind win in Wednesday’s Division 1 boys soccer state semifinal at Holt High School.
Playing in horrid conditions — including 41-degree cold, worsened by wind-driven rain at a 45-degree angle — West endured No. 3-ranked Novi’s first-half attack and countered in the second half, even while facing multiple disadvantages.
“I almost started crying in the middle of the field,” said sophomore forward Colin Blackport, who scored West’s first goal and assisted on Kaden Ales’ goal with 19:29 left in regulation. “It was insane. I was hoping we wouldn’t go to PKs at the end, and I’m so glad Tony found a way to score.”
Gallegos struck with 6:33 left in the second 10-minute overtime period, setting off the biggest West celebration of the evening as he exuberantly sprinted toward the bench alongside Blackport and Caleb Sipple.
All three were soaked from the evening’s consistent rain that intensified during the second half. That didn’t matter.
Unranked Traverse City West (18-4-2) takes on No. 2 Troy Athens (22-2-1) at noon Saturday at Comstock Park High School for the state championship, the Titans’ first finals berth since Casey Townsend led them to a state title in 2006.
“I just want to win a state championship,” Blackport said. “We’ve heard about Troy all season. But I think with the way we’re playing right now, we can win it.”
West already knocked off No. 1 Okemos in the regional finals, and now No. 3 Novi.
The victory means West defender Finn Durbin gets to pull double duty, as he’ll play in Saturday’s state soccer championship and then rush back to Traverse City to kick for the Titans’ football playoff game against Hudsonville at 7 p.m. on Thirlby Field.
West fell behind 2-0 in the first half as Novi’s Bruce Turner scored both Wildcat goals to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. Things looked good for Novi, considering West had the wind for the first half and Novi struck twice anyway. The Wildcats took only 31 seconds in the second half to generate a shot on goal. Then things turned.
Blackport was taken down by a Novi defender just inside the box and converted on the ensuing penalty kick with 28:15 left in regulation to give West added hope.
“That first goal, I think that’s what that’s what got us back into the game,” Durbin said. “After that we knew that they were going to lay out a little and we knew that we could take it and we went out and we got the second and the third.”
A couple minutes later, Gallegos missed an open shot. He’d make up for that later.
Ales scored midway through the soaked second half to tie the game at 2-2, and Blade Kalbfleisch made a big save on a Novi free kick a minute and a half later to keep it that way.
Blackport forced another penalty kick with 13:24 left, but Wildcats goaltender Issac Gibbs made the save. Kalbfleisch made another save with 1:54 left that led to overtime.
“(The hardest thing was) keeping my emotions in check after I didn’t I make the second penalty kick,” Blackport said. “It didn’t go in and a PK is almost a given. I got super nervous I was like what if we lose? What if, because I missed?”
Gallegos made sure that wasn’t a factor, burying a goal with 6:33 left in the second OT session.
“That was a huge relief, but it was also a quick mindset shift to seeing the game out, seeing the last six minutes out,” West head coach Matt Griesinger said. “That was the longest six minutes we’ve played all year. That felt like a very long time, but Tony did well. He cemented himself as a workhorse for us.”
As the two teams shook hands following the game, Novi senior James Ashworth approached the Titans and said, “You guys worked your butts off. Go get it.”
Novi advanced to the 2016 semifinals, falling at Holt to eventual state champ East Kentwood, the same team that beat TC West (also on Holt’s field) in the regional finals in penalty kicks that year.
“This is definitely crazy weather,” Novi head coach Todd Pfeiffer said. “That’s Michigan at the end of October and it kind of took away from what our game plan and strategy has been all season long. We’re a very good technical team. We like to work the ball around, knock the ball around and you can’t do that in these conditions and it forced us to try and play a different way. We didn’t adapt as well as we liked.
“They played a lot more directed that second half and got a lot of skipping balls going by us ... I mean, they end up playing the same conditions, so it’s not an excuse.”