Gull Lake secured the MHSAA Division 2 boys soccer state championship Saturday with a 1-0 overtime victory against DeWitt. After 80 scoreless minutes on Comstock Park’s turf, senior Roni Sylejmani scored 1:55 into the first overtime with an assist by Tyler Corstange. It was the fourth finals appearance for the Blue Devils, who were co-champions in 1993 and 1988, plus runner-up in 1983.
The victory also was the grand prize for a group that had seen strong seasons recently come up short. In 2018, Gull Lake fell in the semifinal to Forest Hills Northern in overtime. Last season, an unbeaten regular season was spoiled by a surprise district upset against Coldwater.
“The second the summer started, this was our goal,” said fifth-year head coach Matthew Streitel. “There was a sense of business-like atmosphere since day one.”
Despite the tight score, the Blue Devils dominated possession and opportunities throughout the match. Gull Lake had a number of breakaways and great looks get denied by Panther goalkeeper Patrick Woodbury, who was officially credited with 11 saves. The pressure greatly picked in the second half with GL not allowing a shot-on-goal, but their barrage couldn’t find the back of the net.
“DeWitt made it tough on us, I think we had something like 18 to 20 shots tonight, and we just needed one,” said Streitel. “The boys just kept their resolve going. The maturity of this team, the chemistry showed tonight.”
Two minutes into overtime, Sylejmani was able to find space from about 20 yards away. The future Western Michigan Bronco and Mr. Soccer award candidate rocketed a shot to his left that just fit between the diving Woodbury and the goalpost.
“I think it solidifies his case (for Mr. Soccer),” added Streitel.
From there, DeWitt was forced to be more aggressive and came up with a few solid chances in the second overtime. GL freshman goalkeeper Braden Minehart made a key save in the 96th minute. The Panthers also earned a free kick from just outside the box in the final 80 seconds that deflected out off a Blue Devil. The ensuing corner kick led to a shot that sailed the net.
DeWitt finishes at 13-5-2 and was playing in their first-ever state soccer final. Graduating seniors for the Panthers are Patrick Woodbury, Landon Hungerford, Zach Stephan, Gilberto Tzep, Ethan Anderson, and Victor Toune.
Gull Lake finishes at 16-2-1 and four seniors will graduate as champions; Roni Sylejmani, Tray’Shan McCloughan, Riley Folk, and Avery Zeigler. With nine of their 11 starters from Saturday’s game being underclassmen, the Blue Devils look to contend once again in 2021 and beyond.