Tyler Beck scored in the first half and Mitchell Smith in the second to give DeWitt the inside track to the CAAC Red boys soccer title with a 2-1 win over Haslett on Tuesday night.
The game had the feel of a playoff game between the Division 2 powers, and not just because of the October-like weather. The clash between the sixth-ranked Panthers (6-3-2 overall, 2-0 CAAC Red) and the ninth-ranked Vikings (8-1-1, 1-1) was, after all, DeWitt vs. Haslett, one of the bitterest rivalries in the area, in any sport.
“This is huge,” Smith said. “I’m undefeated in my high school career against them, so I just wanted to keep it up.”
Haslett came into the contest undefeated, and got off to a dream start, scoring less than two minutes into the game when Thomas Grubb eluded his defender on the right wing and found Prince Simba Sultani at the near post. Sultani poked the ball past DeWitt keeper Jared Miller to give the Vikings a 1-0 lead.
The early goal appeared to put the Panthers back on their heels, as Haslett was a step quicker to every ball and dominated possession for the next 20 minutes.
Beck got his team up off the mat, somewhat against the run of play, when he headed home a long free kick by Derek Butcher to tie the game 1-1 with 12:54 left in the first half.
“Haslett was pressuring the ball every, single time,” DeWitt coach Jamal Mubarakeh said. “It took us some time to figure this out. We got surprised with the early goal, and it took us a long time to get it back.”
The second half was all DeWitt, with wave after wave of attacks that saw Haslett keeper Keaton Kinder make several strong saves to keep his team afloat. On one of a flurry of Panther corner kicks early in the half, Beck nearly scored a second goal when he looped a header over Kinder, only to have Haslett’s Hany Omar head it off the line.
Smith scored what would be the winning goal with 8:22 left in the game, taking an inch-perfect pass from DeWitt freshman Brandon DeSmyter, turning at the top of the box and rolling a left-footed shot past Kinder and just inside the post.
“I kind of mis-hit it,” Smith said. “But it went in, so I’m not complaining.”
Haslett coach Alex Hayner said he was happy with his team’s effort, but that they got out of their game plan.
“At times, the emotion of the game got to us,” Hayner said. “We started to try to out-macho them, out-muscle them. It was a good learning experience.”