A winning brand

BIG RAPIDS — Big Rapids girls soccer coach Emmanuel Foko calls it the Big Rapids Brand.

It is the style of play that has allowed the Cardinals to reach the Division 3 district final after a 5-3 win over Whitehall on Thursday afternoon.

Big Rapids will face Ludington for the district title Saturday morning. Game time is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Fremont Middle School.

ELUSIVE: Big Rapids' Paige Johnson (left) makes her way through a pair of Whitehall players on Thursday. (Pioneer photo/Bob Allan)

Foko has worked with his team on developing a style that will lead to success. The style includes getting the midfielders to control the ball and sending a pass to the forwards, who get behind the defense to take a shot at the keeper on in one-on-one situations.

For most of Thursday, the brand work to perfection.

While forwards Erin Thompson and Ashlen Bell combined for four of the Cardinals’ five goals, Foko said the success comes from the midfield.

“The origin comes from the through balls,” Foko said. “We’ve trained our mids to send the through balls from anywhere and that is why the forwards are able to make those runs.”

Thompson in particular made plenty of runs to begin the game, but couldn’t convert on any of the chances.

“At the beginning, it was stress,” Thompson said. “I want to win so bad. It’s my senior year and I want to do it for my teammates, so it was stress.”

Big Rapids had its share of chances to open the game, but so too did the Vikings. Whitehall was able to get on the board five minutes into the contest on a tally by Miranda Jacobs.

Each team would score a minute apart less than 10 minutes into the contest as the Vikings held a 2-1 lead.

Big Rapids tied the score as Thompson sent a shot that hit the cross bar and bounced to Bell, who headed the ball into the net.

“We had a lot of good through balls and helped us score most of our goals,” Bell said. “My goal, the ball was too high to kick in so I just headed it.”

Whitehall reclaimed the lead one minute later as Kelsey Gensler was able to finish on a crossing pass.

Big Rapids, however, would score three more times before halftime to take a 4-2 lead into intermission. Thompson scored near the midway point of the first half to knot the match at 2-2.

Paige Johnson then gave the Cardinals their first lead as she took a direct kick that the Whitehall keeper couldn’t catch for a 3-2 advantage. Thompson then scored her second of the night with three minutes left before intermission after taking a nice pass from Johnson.

“We were really aggressive and stepped up to the ball a lot,” Bell said of the first-half success.

Foko challenged the team to get the next goal in the second half.

The Vikings had other ideas. They began the second half applying solid pressure and had the majority of the chances.

Whitehall was able to take advantage of the pressure seven minutes into the second half as Morgan Kellis’ shot found the back of the net to cut the Big Rapids lead to 4-3.

“I told the team let’s get that next goal before they do,” Foko said of the second half. “The girls came out a little nervous and didn’t step up to the ball.”

There were some tense moments for the next 10 minutes as the Vikings continued to apply pressure. Big Rapids withstood the challenge and Thompson collected her third goal of the contest with 18 minutes remaining.

Thompson now has 37 goals this season.

“Whitehall pressured us and we didn’t do a good job of stepping up to the ball as we did in the first half,” Thompson said. “The fifth goal took some pressure off of us, but we still wanted to play like it was 0-0.”

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from this game.

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