After 19 years of excruciating near-misses, the storied Jesuit High School soccer program is once again a State Champion.
Zach Board '20 scored three goals as the Tigers won a wild shootout Saturday (Feb. 29) in DeLand over Pembroke Pines Charter, 5-4, to claim the program's 7th State Championship and first since 2001. (Click here for a photo slideshow or see below.)
While Jesuit soccer has been very successful since it captured both the State and National title in 2001 – the Tigers have had several Top 10 national rankings, six State Semifinal appearances, and numerous other Region Final appearances in that time, while winning District titles in 34 of the past 36 years – they have been thwarted just short of the ultimate goal. Many years Jesuit was denied on penalty kicks, including last year's State Semifinal at Plantation American Heritage.
Saturday, Jesuit put that all in the past with a triumph for the ages to earn the Class 5A crown. Falling behind 1-0 on a windy day that wreaked havoc on defenders, the Tigers notched back-to-back goals before halftime to stake a 2-1 lead at intermission. Alex Medina '20 came off the bench to spark Jesuit (24-3-2), and he buried the first goal, beating teammate Oliver Petrillo '20 to a loose ball on the goal line and slamming home the equalizer. Then Board, who also came off the bench for Jesuit, scored the first of his trio, a clinical one-touch finish off a long pinpoint pass from Lucas Gobea '20 for the halftime lead.
The wind seemed to pick up even more early in the second half, and so did the referee's whistle as fouls and yellow cards slowed down play. PPC (18-3-2) tied it a few minutes into the second half on a penalty kick (hand ball), igniting a flurry of four goals in nine minutes of action. Moments later Jesuit went ahead 3-2 when Board blasted home a loose ball from close range after a scramble in the aftermath of a one-timer off the crossbar by Gobea.
Moments after that PPC tied it at 3, then Gobea quickly put Jesuit back on top 4-3, corralling a long ball from Christian Fairchild '22 down the left wing, cutting past defenders and darting into the box, then deftly wrong-footing the PPC 'keeper to put the Tigers on top for good and ignite a frenzy among the Blue Tide faithful at Spec Martin Stadium.
Board, who hadn't played all season until the District playoffs due to a knee injury, gave the Tigers a two-goal cushion with 15 minutes remaining. The senior ran onto a brilliant pass from Carson Bien '20 that unlocked the defense, then coolly unleashed a left-footed missile than roared into the netting and proved to be the winning goal.
PPC threw everyone forward and kept up the pressure, trimming its deficit to one with eight minutes remaining. But Jesuit goalkeeper Bryce Denick '20 was resolute, sure-handedly denying any opportunities.
Jesuit has played in (112) and won (83) more Region and State playoff games than any school in Florida history, and now the Tigers are tied for the second-most boys State soccer titles overall with their 7th crown in 10 championship game appearances. Head coach Eric Sims '95, in his 7th season at the helm of Tiger soccer, now has a head coaching State Championship to go with the one he earned as a Jesuit player in 1995.
It is the school's 24th State title in eight sports. The seven titles for soccer are the most of any Jesuit sport, ahead of baseball (5), cross country (4), basketball (3), swimming (2), football (1), wrestling (1), and track & field (1).
Click here for a Tampa Bay Times story about Jesuit soccer's State Championship. On Twitter, Spectrum Sports 360 (@SpecSports360) and Spectrum's Chris Torello (@TorelloSports) have video highlights of all of the Jesuit goals and of parts of the post-game celebration.
View below a photo slideshow from Saturday in DeLand: