EAST LANSING, Michigan. With a 2-1 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the second half of the Division 3 Girls’ State Football Championship, Hudsonville Unity Christian were poised to take home the No. 11 title trophy.
Then Williamston high school student Liz Bellinger hit her powerful right foot from a free kick from 45 yards and shot the ball into the top corner to breathe life into her Hornets team.
Nine minutes later, Williamston sent their die-hard fans into another frenzy when senior Kaley Douglas outplayed Unity’s Christian defenseman, took the ball in the corner of the box and passed to Breuer Fenech, who shot from 12 yards to close the ball. an incredible 3-2 comeback win on Saturday at DeMartin Stadium.
“Honestly, I practice these shots all the time,” Bellinger said of her game-tying goal. “Whether it’s corners or anywhere, I’m looking to hit the frame and whether we get the second ball or it just hits the net the first time – I didn’t expect it to happen, but being able to hit it on the frame was everything. , which I cared about… Absolutely amazing.”
A PHOTO: See our gallery from the Division 3 Girls State Football Championship game.
The late fireworks were a fitting end to the State Championship matchup, which featured the top two teams in Division 3, and the Championship match also started with a bang as #2 Unity Christian scored in less than five minutes as Olivia Bosworth scored a bounce in front of the net and sent the ball past Williamston goalkeeper Abby Pieper.
Less than two minutes later, the Hornets responded with a Douglas penalty goal after Unity Christian goaltender Morgan Scholten was whistled for knocking down a Williamston player in a lost ball race in the box.
After an equal first 20 minutes of the second half, Unity Christian broke the tie with a goal from freshman Ava Lütke, who made a perfect cross to Jessie Postma.
Thereafter, Williamston’s bench received a yellow card, but the Hornets did not give up and were finally given a break when Bellinger landed a long-range strike.
“I think it was definitely a turning point,” Bellinger said. “Given the fact that at the beginning of the second half the energy was kind of falling apart, it was really necessary. However, it was definitely a team effort to get everyone up and do their job to get to this point.”
Williamston continued to hold the gas after the tie, forcing Scholten to make a jump save as the ball headed into the top corner with five minutes left before a stunning combo between Douglas and Fenech gave the Hornets a lead with 1:21 left.
“This was hard. The last goal they scored was just amazing,” said Unity Christian coach Randy Hituis. “I have to take my hat off to Williamston because they fought hard. When we increased the score 2:1, they did what they did. They didn’t shake; they were collected and worked with the ball.”
Although Unity Christian (21-2-1) failed to complete their Division 3 state record collection, the Crusaders are back in the Finals for the first time since 2016 and they are bringing back a lot of talent for what should be a promising 2023 season.
“We have a lot of good kids coming back, so it hurts, but we hope to be back,” Hituis said. “Yeah, we’re disappointed with how this game ended, but man, with an atmosphere like today, and on a beautiful day like this, it’s hard to be too depressed. I’m just happy with the girls. They fought and it was a fantastic season.”
Playing in their third championship game, Williamston avenged Unity Christian’s previous finals losses in 2008 and 2010 and made program history.
“Of course, it’s absolutely incredible,” Bellinger said. “… I think we did it as a team and I want to thank all my teammates. I think we all appreciate the support, the staff, and like I said, I think we did it for the team in 2008 that made it, for the teams that didn’t make it, for the teams in 2010 and 2015, I think we got the work done for them this year, and I think it was well deserved by all of us.”
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