Just moments after entering the game, Buitenhuis made his presence felt. Teammate Andrew Byrne sent in a long bending pass from 40 yards out, and Buitenhuis was in the perfect spot, drilling a header into the back of the net and propelling the Buccaneers to a 3-2 victory over the Rangers of Forest Hills Central.
“It was amazing,” said Buitenhuis, a sophomore whose brother, Chad, has been a key contributor on the Bucs’ varsity squad all fall. “It was a perfect ball from Byrne, I got a head on it and it went over the goalie.
“It was probably the best goal of my life.”
With the victory, Grand Haven (17-1-3), advances to Wednesday’s Division 1 state semifinal game against Troy (18-2). The Buccaneers are ranked No. 5 in the last Michigan High School Soccer Coaches Association poll while the Colts are ranked sixth.
Dean said he doesn’t think twice about putting bench players into high-pressure games at key moments.
“When kids make this team, we give then an idea of where they stand, what their roll will be, but our expectations for them are all the same,” Dean said. “We hold them all to the same high standards. They’re all talented players.”
Grand Haven looked to have the victory wrapped up in regulation thanks to a late goal from an unlikely source. With 9:43 remaining, Bucs’ goalie Ethan Beswick came forward to take a free kick from just short of midfield. He lofted a high arcing ball toward the Rangers’ goal, hoping a teammate could get a head on it.
Instead, the ball carried over the head of FHC goalie Kevin McCoy and into the back of the net.
Beswick nearly went from hero to goat as he gave up what he considered a soft goal with just 95 seconds remaining in regulation. Rangers’ midfielder Sean Conerty, who will play at Michigan State next year, rifled a long shot that skipped off Beswick’s arm and into the net, stunning the Buccaneers and giving the Rangers new life.
After the score, Beswick walked into the goal and wrapped his fingers into the netting, hanging his head in disbelief.
“I was just trying to clear my head,” the senior keeper said. “I was telling everybody it’s going to be a new game now — as hard as it is to do that.”
Beswick, likely a shoo-in for all-state honors after his play this fall, said he was shocked to see his long shot end up in the back of the net.
“Willie (Bennick) said just knock it straight at the goalie, especially because he would be looking up into the sun,” Beswick said. “I just tried to serve it in and a miracle happened.”
Dean said he was proud of the way his team responded after giving up the late goal in regulation.
“At that point, we can’t control what happened. We can only control our reaction,” Dean said. “I’m not surprised with how they responded, because these kids are that good. Our message was, forget about it, and go after it on the field.
“I do think it was good that we got the break (at the end of regulation) and were able to rally the troops.”
The Buccaneers trailed 1-0 at halftime as Forest Hills Central dominated the first 40 minutes of play with their superior effort coupled with a tremendous amount of talent. The Rangers’ Jullian Jamison scored his team’s opening goal as he knocked in a cross from teammate Jason Stacy with 16:20 remaining in the half.
The Bucs tied the game three minutes into the second half when Nick Kline moved forward into the attack and was dragged down by a Rangers’ defender. Grand Haven’s Jake Vanderlaan buried the ensuing penalty kick to knot the score at 1-all.
Both teams were extremely dangerous offensively throughout the game. FHC’s Stacy, who will play at Michigan next fall, along with MSU-bound Conerty, were constantly a threat to put the ball on net. The Bucs’ defenders — Matt Davis, Kevin Lacroix, Andrew Wadaga, Ryan Schoonover and Kline — were fantastic winning balls out of the air and keeping in front of the Rangers’ dangerous snipers.
“They’ve got some great players who we wanted to hold in check,” Dean said. “Their effort in the first half was just fantastic. We felt very fortunate to get into halftime down only one goal.”
Grand Haven put several shots on the FHC goal in the second half, and on multiple occasions, Rangers’ defenders had to clear the ball off the line. One such play came off a long throw-in by the Bucs’ Davis, which was flicked over the Rangers’ goalie and was heading into the net before Jamison headed it out of trouble.
A defender also headed away a Vanderlaan free kick which bent around a wall of FHC players and was heading for the right corner of the goal before being deflected away by a defender. A minute later, Vanderlaan ripped a shot off the crossbar.
The Bucs were far from full strength as the game headed into overtime. Forward Nate Rose was hurt early in the game and stayed on the field, but was far from at full speed. Davis and Chad Buitenhuis were on the sidelines with cramps late in the game, while Bennick was banged up as well.
That opened up opportunities for players such as Ian Yetzke, Wadaga and Jon Buitenhuis, who all turned in quality minutes off the bench.