Lancers Win Historic League Title in Overtime
History was made Saturday night for Grace’s men’s soccer team. Nikola Djordjevic’s goal in the 98th minute won the Crossroads League Tournament championship for the Lancers, coming from behind to beat Spring Arbor.
With the score tied 3-3 late in the first overtime period, Joshua Coupar sent a cross into the middle of the penalty box. Djordjevic, who broke his finger earlier in the match, reached behind and deftly backheeled a shot, which lofted softly over SAU’s goalkeeper into the back of the net.
The Lancers and the large contingent of fans who braved the 32-degree weather spilled out onto the field in mass euphoria.
Grace won its first championship in 25 years and clinched an automatic bid to the 2017 NAIA National Championships. Grace will be making its first appearance since 1982 — 35 years ago — at NAIA Nationals.
Grace will play an Opening Round match in the national tournament on Nov. 18 against a team to be announced. The NAIA selection show and bracket unveiling will be streamed live Monday at 1 p.m.
“I’m so happy for everyone involved. The guys went into the game with confidence, and we knew what we could accomplish tonight,” said Grace head coach Matt Hotchkin. “This is such a huge blessing, and we are really happy to bring a championship back to Grace. This was a full team effort, including a great group of Grace supporters who made the trip to Spring Arbor and also watched online from literally all over the world.”
The Lancers (12-4-4) got off to a dream start in the first half, scoring two goals in the opening 20 minutes to stun the top-seeded Cougars (16-4-1).
The Lancers’ first goal came in the 12th minute. After a strong buildup, Grace switched sides to attack on the right.
Gabriel Osti dribbled into the penalty box and passed ahead to Damon Binkley. Binkley blasted his shot above the goalkeeper from close range for an early 1-0 lead.
Not long after, Cody Boerema was fouled in the box to win Grace a penalty kick. Boerema stepped up and slotted his PK beyond the reach of the goalkeeper in the 20th minute for a 2-0 lead.
The Cougars proved their mettle with a dynamic response. SAU scored two goals in a three-minute span to level the game.
With four minutes to play, Grace constructed a direct attack toward SAU’s goal. The ball came to Togo Narusawa, and his low drive forced a diving save from the Cougars.
A memorable first half ended with the score knotted 2-2.
Grace started the second half sharply, resulting in two shots from Binkley in the first two minutes.
Ten minutes later, Grace nearly pulled ahead. Colin Cape found space on the right edge of the box, and his long, hard drive beat SAU’s goalkeeper but clanged off the goalpost.
Shortly after, Grace had another golden opportunity on the right side, but Ulisses Miranda’s shot was saved.
The Cougars went ahead 3-2 on a counterattack, finding space inside the box for a goal that beat Kurt Hamlin.
Grace did not seem fazed and found an equalizer from Binkley. Cody Boerema tried a shot from the right endline that was saved. The rebound fell to Binkley who hit a laser past the goalkeeper at the 70:47 mark.
Both teams had chances to win the game in regulation; Hamlin made several key saves in the second half, including two in the last minute.
With 12 minutes remaining, Breno Oliveira hit the goalpost off a deadly curling kick. On the ensuing rebound, a header in the box from Cape went high.
Minutes later, Grace won possession deep in SAU’s territory. Cape’s shot under pressure was saved, and the game entered extra time tied 3-3.
The Lancers, who have shown a flair for dramatic wins this season, seemed destined to score in the first overtime. Miranda tried a swerving shot from the left side, but his attempt whisked wide of the far post.
Oliveira also had a shot from outside the box that was saved seven minutes into the period.
The Lancers continued to apply pressure and found the magical winning touch from Djordjevic at the 97:18 mark.
“We scored two goals early which was a strange place for us to be. We lost the lead and some of our composure, but this team knows how to dig down deep, and you can’t ever count us out,” Hotchkin said. “This team has seen a lot of growth this year and not just on the field. God has been doing a lot in all of our lives, and we can only thank Him for the opportunity to work for this. It’s one game at a time for us, and we will stay hungry for the next match.”
Grace’s win ended an impressive 33-match home unbeaten streak for the Cougars, dating back to the 2014 season.
Hamlin made 11 saves for the Lancers in 98 minutes of action. Binkley tallied six shots to lead Grace’s offense, and Miranda and Oliveira tried three apiece.