DEWITT – In his team’s first meeting this season with the DeWitt Panthers, East Lansing senior Sam Lebbie was a bit uneasy.
In the end, the Trojans came out on top, but it took two 10-minutes periods of extra time and a penalty-kick shootout for Division 2’s No. 1-ranked team to pull out the victory. Lebbie didn’t want to be on the edge Saturday afternoon when East Lansing took on DeWitt for the district title, so he did something about it.
The forward scored the game-winning goal early in the second half to propel the Trojans past the Panthers, 2-1, at DeWitt High School.
“I didn’t want this to go to (penalty kicks),” Lebbie said. “I really had to step up, and I was glad I made it happen.”
The win handed East Lansing its fifth district title in as many years. Trojan senior Alden Metzmaker said there is both outside and internal pressure that comes with being a part of such a successful program.
East Lansing, which finished third in the CAAC Blue this season, also captured the CAAC Gold Cup tournament trophy earlier this month. The Trojans will face Petoskey Tuesday at Mount Pleasant in the regional semifinals.
“People expect a lot out of us,” Metzmaker said. “We just have to deliver.”
Metzmaker delivered the game’s first goal less than five minutes into the match. The midfielder put away a goal right in front of the Panthers’ net to give his team early momentum.
“We haven’t started well in other games, and we’ve gone down and stayed down,” Metzmaker added. “I felt like we had to come out and get started early.”
Nearly 14 minutes after the Trojans took a 1-0 lead, DeWitt was able to grab the equalizer. Junior midfielder Zachary Rollis scored his 10th goal of the season with 21:16 left to play in the first half.
The Panthers almost jumped on the scoreboard just minutes before Rollis’ goal when Michael Averill’s 35-plus-yard free kick was pushed over the crossbar by Trojan keeper Scott Campbell.
The second half was all East Lansing, as the state’s top-ranked team created multiple scoring opportunities following Lebbie’s game-winning goal with 35:15 to play in the match. Josh Wolfinger had a shot that hit the crossbar with under 10 minutes to play, and Lebbie missed just wide on a header in front of the goal shortly after.
Rollis said he could feel the momentum shift in the second half.
“We were playing balls behind (the defense), but we still couldn’t create chances,” the junior said. “It wasn’t working like it did in the first half.”
Despite the loss, Rollis said he’s able to walk away from the season feeling good about what the Panthers were able to accomplish.
DeWitt, which lost multiple starters from last year’s team, tied for second in the CAAC Red and topped conference champs Haslett earlier this week for a chance to contend for the district championship.
“This was going to be a tough year, and we knew that,” Rollis added. “We put in so much work during the week – the only day we don’t practice is on Sunday.
“To be able to get this far was pretty nice.”
Contact James L. Edwards III at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JLEdwardsIII.