MELBOURNE -- Was it a foul or wasn’t it?
The Archbishop McCarthy boys’ soccer team had an opinion Thursday morning following a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to Fort Walton Beach Choctawhatchee in a Class 3A state semifinal at Eastern Florida State College.
The end came 35 seconds into overtime when Choctawhatchee’s Sean Hoffstater gained possession after a deep pass and, following a hard collision, dribbled the ball to Kristian Koepke, who knifed a shot into the bottom-left corner of the net past McCarthy keeper Nicolas Zedan.
Choctawhatchee players began to celebrate, but officials huddled for more than a minute to discuss what happened. McCarthy players descended on the huddle, screaming for a foul call.
Junior Daniel Reese hollered above them all with obscenities.
“Every [expletive] year you guys [expletive] ruin it,” Reese could be heard yelling. He was promptly red-carded.
Things nearly got ugly, as players from both sides started to push and shove each other, prompting FHSAA officials to jump in and separate them. Seconds later, officials finally declared a good goal, and Indians players ran off in celebration while Mavericks players walked off in disgust.
“I saw a clear foul, and everybody in the stands saw it, too, so I don’t know why the refs decided not to call it,” Reese said while walking off the field. “I mean, everybody kind of stopped, including the other team — I don’t know — it’s just a bad way to end the season. It was a clear foul in every other game to me.
“Our team, their team, we all expected a foul; nobody knew it was an actual goal because everybody stopped and froze. That’s why [Choctawhatchee players] were surprised when they won. They didn’t know they had won until the ref actually said it was a goal five minutes later.”
Reese’s red card was actually deemed a double yellow which, according to officials, will not result in a suspension when he starts his senior season.
“We had our chances, and I definitely thought we could win it in overtime,” said McCarthy coach Michael Martin, who tried to steer clear of comments over the controversial finish. “Unfortunately, it was just a tough break, our kids weren’t able to clamp down, [Choctawhatchee] got the ball crossed, got a couple touches and got it past our goalkeeper. We rode our luck for a while [throughout the regional playoffs], and it was just unfortunate with the circumstances of how it occurred and the way it occurred at the end, but I’m proud of my boys regardless. They played their hearts out.”
For McCarthy, it was the end of a magical run through the regional playoffs that saw the Mavericks, who finished 18-6-1 and had won only one regional game in the program’s history before this year, advance through the brackets as a district runner-up, upsetting district champion Plantation American Heritage along the way.
After playing a lackluster first half that saw them fall behind 1-0 on a Choctawhatchee goal in the 21st minute, the Mavericks finally settled in and got organized in the second half, creating more offensive chances.
With just over 31 minutes left, McCarthy got the equalizer when Reese got his foot on a centering pass in the middle that Choctawhatchee keeper Austin Wilson couldn’t handle, and Joao Lacerda knocked the ball in.
The Mavericks continued to press the rest of the half and, with just seven minutes left, looked like they might have the game-winner.
That’s when Reese broke through the right side and had a point-blank shot from 10 yards away. He let go of a rocket shot.
But Wilson made a tremendous save, diving to his left and deflecting the ball before an Indians defender cleared it.
“I was right there and thought I had a goal,” Reese said. “He just made a monster save, and [Wilson] actually had a great game [Thursday].”
Said Martin: “It was a great season, a historic season, and we definitely have the team to do it again. We’re growing, only four starting seniors, so hopefully we’ll have another opportunity down the road.”