The two schools are just a short trip down I-96 from each other, and with Fruitport now a member of the O-K Black Conference, the games between the two adversaries take on added importance within a race for league crowns on the line.
It was no surprise that Tuesday’s conference clash on the soccer field at Fruitport High School between the Trojans and Rockets was equal parts emotional and entertaining.
After trailing 1-0 for most of the game, host Fruitport ripped off three goals in the final 24 minutes of play to record a 3-2 comeback win over Reeths-Puffer.
“It was a classic game, just like a lot of rivalry games end up being,” said Fruitport head coach Greg Kobylak. “Fruitport and Reeths-Puffer have been rivals for a long time, and now we’re back in the same conference together, so it was a great win for us.
“At this point in the season, for our team, this was something we really needed. We’ve been struggling to get the results we want, but we’ve been steadily improving. For us to play well and win the game was much needed, and hopefully it will be a platform for future success for us.”
Reeths-Puffer scored midway through the first 40 minutes of play to take a 1-0 lead into the halftime break.
The two teams exchanged scoring chances for the first 15 minutes of the second half, until junior forward Zack Shane slipped a shot past the Reeths-Puffer keeper with 24:15 left in the game to knot the score at 1-1.
The Trojans continued to press on the attack, and junior forward Ryan Bytwerk scored on an assist from Shane just 10 minutes later to give the Trojans a 2-1 lead with 15:10 left in the contest.
However, the lead would be short lived, as the Rockets quickly dribbled the ball up field and answered right back to tie the score at 2-2 with 13:27 left.
Just when it appeared likely that the rivalry game was headed for a tie, senior midfielder Isaac Fitzgerald scored on an assist from Shane with 4:24 remaining to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead. Fruitport would stymie any Reeths-Puffer advance the rest of the way, and hold on for the big conference win.
“I was just thinking, ‘oh my gosh, I can’t believe I got a touch on that,’” said Fitzgerald about his game-winning goal. “I really didn’t have to do much, Zack made a great play on the ball and he placed it right there for me.
“That was the first goal of my season, so it’s pretty crazy. The big thing for us was our attitude. After they scored that goal in the second half (to tie the game 2-2), we just kept our heads up, keep hustling, and I think that’s what lead to that last goal.”
Zack Shane continues to lead the Trojans (6-6, 3-3 O-K Black), so it was no surprise to Kobylak that his talented junior forward had a hand in all three of the team’s scores.
“We have a great forward in Zack Shane, so teams are game planning to stop him, and we have to adjust to counterpunching those gameplans,” he added. “Today, Zack was able to record two really big assists for us, so hopefully we can continue to win games with Zack scoring and then setting up his teammates.”
After being held scoreless through the first 40 minutes of play, the message at halftime from the coaching staff was to micromanage some positive results instead of trying to hit a home run on every play.
“The credit goes to our assistant coaches on that,” Kobylak said of the team’s second half changes. “They told the kids at halftime that we needed to quit trying to do everything well, and just focus on doing the small things great. We had a wonderful tackle, which is something we haven’t been doing all year, and that led to one of our goals. Then, someone got a deflection off their leg to block a shot on goal.
“We challenged the kids to try and do a few things great, and it would pay off. And tonight, I think it did.”
No More Sidelines
The Fruitport soccer team will be hosting its annual No More Sidelines event on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the high school soccer field.
No More Sidelines is a non-profit organization, run by volunteers, committed to helping children and young adults with special needs within the community. The group provides children and young adults with special needs, ages seven and older, an opportunity to play sports year round and to participate in community events and outings.
On Thursday, the group will help put on a soccer game that mixes children and young adults with special needs with Fruitport High School soccer players. Admission is free, and donations will be accepted at the gate.
For more information, visit nomoresidelines.org