MELBOURNE -- Just after the final horn sealed his final season as Saint Stephen's soccer goalie, J.J. Byrnes put his hands on his knees and dropped his head toward the glass lining Eastern State Florida College's stadium.
The Falcons' stunning run came to an abrupt end Wednesday afternoon courtesy of a 2-0 loss to Lake Worth Trinity Christian in a Class 1A state semifinal. And so did the prep career of Byrnes and six other seniors on the Saint Stephen's roster.
"The past few years, I've seen the seniors, and their heads go down and they start to cry," Byrnes said. "It never really hit me until then it was over. Before it was over, but I came back the next year. I don't have a next year here."
The Falcons were hoping their season would last just one more day. But the Warriors (18-5-1) put a stop to that and will play for their first winter boys soccer state title at 3 p.m. Thursday against Orlando First Academy.
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Perhaps the biggest play of the day came before the opening kick. The Warriors won the toss and wisely chose to play with the strong wind at their backs during the first half. Consequently, Trinity Christian outshot the Falcons 13-3 during the game's first 40 minutes and scored during the 15th minute when Jowenrick Daantji, off an assist from Rashid Gerard, nicked the ball through traffic and past Byrnes.
"It's always tough when you're playing against the wind. But in the beginning of the game, it's even tougher because you know they're going to come flying out," Byrnes said. "Those first five, 10 minutes of the game are crucial, and that's when they started to take over."
Despite the Warriors' constant peppering, the Falcons began to gain momentum toward the end of the half and nearly squared the game at 1 on Matthew Jones' header, which fell into the arms of Warriors goalie Nick Nedd.
"We were putting ourselves in trouble. Our first 20 minutes was so sluggish, we were letting them have all those opportunities," senior Jeremy Jackman said. "We were lucky it was only 1-0 at half."
The wind at their backs after the break, the Falcons were aggressive early in the second half, earning a corner kick inside the first five minutes. But the Warriors struck again during the game's 52nd minute, when Gerard dribbled into space and buried a shot inside the back far post.
The Falcons (14-2-1) outshot the Warriors 9-6 during the second half, but couldn't avoid being shut out for the first time this season. Nedd finished with seven saves, and three of the Falcons' 12 total shots ricocheted off Trinity Christian defenders.
"Second half, we just spoke about what this means to the program and the individuals out there," said Falcons coach Marc Jones, "and just not to leave anything out there. I thought the intensity stepped up in the second half, we created a lot of opportunities, maybe a little bit unlucky here and there not to capitalize. That's what soccer is about; you've got to capitalize on your opportunities.
"I was really proud. ... The second goal was obviously a killer. That hurt us, be we never gave up."
Marc Jones praised his team in the postgame huddle, marveling about how a supposed rebuilding year stopped one game shy of playing for the program's first state soccer winter championship.
"Districts was something we felt we definitely could compete in and win," Marc Jones said. "And regionals, you never know what happens. And to be honest with you, on another day, I felt we could have won this game.
"We leave with a great season, holding our heads high."