PONTIAC, Mich. -- Sometimes, high school sports can be really great, even if a game is played in a soaking autumn rain storm with the temperature reading 45 degrees. Just ask the Melvindale boys soccer team.
Despite the unfavorable conditions on Wednesday night at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep’s stadium, a hurricane could have not put a damper on the enthusiastic celebration the Cardinals had after a 4-1 overtime win over Fenton in the Division 2 state semifinals.
For the first time ever, Melvindale (16-3-2) is going to a soccer state championship game. The Cardinals continue their season at noon on Saturday at Novi High School and will face undefeated Grand Rapids Forest Hill Northern (22-0-1).
“This is big,” Melvindale coach Tomas Belba said. “This is huge. This is the first time ever we’re going to the state finals so it’s -- I mean, there are no words to describe how I feel right now. All hard work to those boys. Thanks to Fenton for playing a great game.
“State finals, baby.”
In the cold October evening, the Cardinals players and coaches could bask in the warmth of victory as Melvindale students poured onto the field and lifted up players into the air. Chants of “Melvindale” rang out repeatedly.
“Oh my god, it’s crazy,” said senior Carlos Huerta, who netted two goals on the night. “I love our city. They always come and support no matter what. I bet you we could play in Texas and they would still all come and support us. I love this community.”
Melvindale was able to make history thanks to scoring three goals in the two mandatory overtime periods. Entering the first overtime period tied with Fenton (16-6-1), 1-1, Melvindale senior Abdul Hafed Omer scored off of a corner kick from fellow senior Alhasan Yahya in the sixth minute to put Melvindale up 2-1.
With 6.6 seconds left in the first overtime period, it was Yahya’s turn to score as he found the back of the net on a great individual effort. where he beat a defender just beyond midfield and then rifled a shot in off the goalie for a goal, making it 2-1 and sending the Melvindale fans into a frenzy in the stands.
“We felt it at the end of the second half,” Belba said. "We felt it. It was coming, it was coming, it was coming. It was just pure, pure hard work
Huerta, who scored the opening goal of the game in the first half, bookended the game with his second goal of the night with 5:16 left to play in the second overtime period.
“It feels amazing,” Huerta said. “I worked very hard freshman year, sophomore year, the whole high school career for this moment. Thankfully, I made two goals and helped my team out.”
Melvindale did not get many chances to create offense in the first half but they made sure to make the most of its best opportunity. Huerta was running down the right side and took a long pass from Alhasan Yahya. Controlling the pass in stride on one touch, Huerta let it rip from 25 yards out. Although Fenton goalie Gannon Welch got his hands on the ball, it still found the back of the net.
“(Alhasan) always lifts his head up at the end,” Huerta said. “He’d seen me and I made the run. When I made the run, just he set me up perfectly, one touch.”
Melvindale took a 1-0 lead into the half, despite a strong start from Fenton. Melvindale goalie Julian Castillo was forced to make big saves early and throughout the opening half.
“Best goalie in the state,” Belba shouted. “I don’t know how else to put it. He’s amazing, man. He puts in more work than any of us. It pays off. Pays off. Great save right in crucial times too and, you know, it worked in our favor.”
Yet, Fenton’s persistence paid off as the Tigers got on the board with 26:05 left in regulation. Jimmy Myer took a cross along the ground and buried the one-timed shot in from 10 yards out, tying the game at 1-1.
Melvindale was able to raise its intensity after the Fenton goal as the play was more even through the rest of regulation.
“Fenton got one in and then we had to step our game up from an eight to a 15,” Belba said. “We had to double up the work and here we go. All the hard work, I love it.”
Fenton made it to the semifinals for only the second time ever and first since 2016, but heads home short of a state title once again.
“It’s just about the fact that, come tomorrow, we got to go home and we don’t get to be with each other,” Fenton coach Matt Sullivan said. “You learn from that. Next year, they’ll work even harder to make it last even longer. That’s all you can do.”...