BRADENTON -- After losing four key starters off last year's state semifinal team, it looked like Saint Stephen's boys soccer head coach Marc Jones had a rebuilding project ahead of him.
But instead, the youthful Falcons developed into a solid club capable of making a playoff run.
Now that run has led them to the Class 1A state semifinals on Feb. 11 in Melbourne against Maitland Orangewood Christian.
Saint Stephen's locked up that berth with a 6-2 victory over Clearwater Calvary Christian on Friday in the 1A-Region 2 final at the Moore Athletic Complex at Turner Fields.
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"We lost a lot of quality players," Jones said. "We lost three guys that are playing college soccer right now and a fourth one that is good enough to play college soccer. So for these younger players to come through and to achieve what they've achieved, it's just phenomenal."
Early on, there was shock around the boisterous Saint Stephen's (15-1-4) crowd as Calvary took a 1-0 lead in the third minute.
Taylor Nichols chipped keeper Garret Barnes from a difficult angle along the left wing that put the Warriors ahead.
It was the third time in the last four postseason matches the Falcons fell behind.
"There's something special about this team. It's not maybe the most talented group from one to 11 all the way through, but it's a team that has a lot of character, a lot of heart, grit, determination as well as an abundance of skill," Jones said. "Going a goal down, it doesn't faze them. They know what they've got to do. They work hard for each other as a team, and they did the business again (Friday)."
Business got done by the midfield of Henry Howell, Antonio Colacci and John Boyd.
Jones said those three are the engine of the team. They score goals and create chances for others.
Howell did that damage by delivering two pinpoint corners in the first half that led to goals.
Then, 20 seconds into the second half, with the score 2-2, Howell netted what turned out to be the match winner.
"That was pretty exciting at the beginning of the second half," Howell said. "In the first half, I felt like we really just dominated. I felt really confident in our play, because we were moving the ball well and we just had a couple mental lapses on their goals."
After Howell's early goal, Saint Stephen's relentless attack intensified.
The Falcons, which finished with a 15-6 shot-on-goal advantage for the match and a 10-3 edge in the second period, went on a flurry that produced four goals in the final 40 minutes.
Colacci converted a penalty to give the Falcons an insurance goal in the 52nd minute, before his favorite goal of the night occurred just 10 minutes from time.
Saint Stephen's was awarded a free kick just outside the penalty box, and Colacci quickly took it as Calvary was setting up its defensive wall.
The result was a 5-2 lead for the Falcons.
"I watch soccer a lot and see a lot of trick plays," Colacci said.
Colacci, in his first year with the Saint Stephen's program and a junior, and Howell, a freshman, clicked again for the final tally in second-half stoppage time.
Howell quickly took a free kick to catch the Warriors off guard, slipping a pass to Colacci, who buried the ball into the back of the net for a personal hat trick.
Now the club will make its second consecutive state semifinal trip when they head to Eastern Florida State College. The time of the match will either be 10 a.m. or 12:30 p.m. Feb. 11. The time was not known as of press time.