Boys soccer | Saint Stephen's gives up three-goal lead, still wins region championship

jlembo@bradenton.comFebruary 8, 2014 

TAMPA -- A season few saw coming has produced an ending no one saw coming.

After squandering a late three-goal lead during Friday's Class 1A-Region 2 championship match, the Saint Stephen's boys soccer team defeated Tampa Carrollwood Day 4-3 when freshman Jonathan Boyd netted the game-winner with 29 seconds remaining in the second overtime.

As soon as the ball settled in the back of the net, Boyd darted over to fellow freshman Alex Virgilio, who provided the assist, and started a human pile colored one part green and another part mud.

Oh, what a finish. The Falcons (14-1-1) led 3-0 with 15 minutes remaining in regulation before the Patriots mounted a furious rally capped by Austin Ham's equalizer with 73 seconds remaining.

It was a stunning turn of events. But just when it appeared the Falcons' season would come to an abrupt and heart-wrenching end, Boyd, who took a cross from Virgilio, scored the biggest goal of his young life just before penalty kicks would have decided who heads to Melbourne's Eastern State Florida College for Wednesday's state semifinal.

The Falcons meet Lake Worth Trinity Christian (18-5-1) at either 10 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The winner advances to Thursday's state final at 3 p.m.

"It was kind of a jumble. The ball was bouncing around a little bit, and it fell to Alex," Boyd said. "I was just hoping it would fall to me, and it did. It was a great cross by him, and I was just lucky enough to be on the receiving end."

As the players joyously made their to the sideline, coach Marc Jones wrapped one Falcon after another in a bear hug.

"The team has a lot of character. I believe in the group and the young men," Jones said. "That's what life's about, isn't it? Sometimes things don't go your way and coming back from adversity defines who you are. I was really proud of that group of young men (Friday); they battled back."

Early on, it didn't look like they would have to. Saint Stephen's took a 2-0 lead early in the first half after Boyd's cross was knocked in by a Carrollwood player and Matthew Jones booted in a rebound from his own penalty kick. And when Jeremy Jackman scored from about 25 yards out less than five minutes into the second half, the Falcons' eighth region title and first since 2010 looked all but assured.

Jones even pulled two of his banged-up seniors, Jorge Zavala (hamstring) and Matthew Jones (calf), so they could get out of the cold rain and start healing for next week.

"I thought the work had been done," Marc Jones said. "I take my hat off to Carrollwood."

The Patriots' comeback began when John Frost's header made it 3-1 with about 15 minutes remaining. And after the Falcons were called for a hand ball in the goal box, Miguel Ridruejo's goal off a penalty kick trimmed Carrollwood's deficit to 3-2 with just more than three minutes to play.

Moments later, captains and coaches from each team were meeting at midfield to discuss overtime.

"We had to refocus. There was no point in focusing on those goals and letting them up," said senior goalie J.J. Byrnes, who recorded three huge saves in overtime. "We knew what our game plan was and we had to restart. ... At halftime of sudden death, we decided this is our game."

Next stop: the state final four.

"You just have to believe. And we were doing it for our seniors," Boyd said. "We didn't want it to be their last game, and we knew we have the talent right here to go all the way."

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