Little did Tampa Catholic know that when it took an early 1-0 lead on Ransom Everglades in Wednesday night’s Class 2A state championship game, the Raiders had them right where they wanted them.
Sure enough, for the third time in a row Ransom Everglades overcame a first-half deficit to win — and this time it was with everything on the line. The Raiders, making their first state tournament appearance in 37 years, defeated Tampa Catholic 3-2 at Melbourne High School for the program’s first state title.
“The heart and character of the kids on this team is unbelievable,” Ransom head coach Dave Villano said. “To fall behind again in a game and know that they can fight back is truly remarkable. What a moment for this program. I think the success that we had this year was the combination of a process that began four or five years ago.”
The game-winner came with 26:58 left in regulation on a gorgeous goal when Michael Colonna beat the Crusader defense down low, spotted Alex Stuart sprinting down the middle and headed him a perfect ball. Stuart lined up and one-time a shot with his right foot past diving Tampa Catholic goalkeeper Anthony Vertino into the right side of the net.
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“Jackson found me and I just trusted Stuey [Stuart] would be there to put it away,” Colanna said. “We’ve had that chemistry together since middle school and it paid off tonight. I can’t believe we’re state champions.”
Said Stuart: “Mike and I have known each other since we were little and are always on the same page. When I saw him get the ball down low, I knew he’d find me. When I got it, I knew I had the ’keeper beat. It was just a matter of making sure I put the ball on goal. What an amazing feeling this is right now. I can’t believe I’m wearing this medal and that we’re taking this big trophy home.”
The first half was packed with a full game’s worth of action.
Tampa Catholic grabbed its 1-0 lead in the 11th minute when the Crusaders were awarded a corner kick and made the Raiders pay when the ball landed right in front of the net for Taylor Patrick. With Ransom keeper Antonio Ferrer on the ground, the ball trickled in toward the goal line as Ransom’s Stuart tried to clear it. But it was too late as the ball crossed the line first.
Just one minute later it appeared Ransom’s deficit would be 2-0 when the Crusaders got themselves another point-blank shot at the goal. But Ferrer made the save of the night as he dived to his left and barely got a piece of the ball with his left hand, deflecting the ball over the crossbar by inches.
Two minutes later, it looked like the Raiders (24-4) would tie the score when they were awarded a penalty kick. Juan Rizo-Patron lined up for the PK but TC keeper Vertino guessed correctly, diving to his left and stoning Rizo-Patron’s shot.
Undaunted, the Raiders, who dominated most of the first half with time of possession — winning most 50/50 balls — got the equalizer with 22:24 left in the first when Andrew Geraghty dropped a centering pass in to Stuart, who turned on it from 15 yards out and one-timed it into the right side of the net.
Twelve minutes later, Ransom grabbed a 2-1 lead when Stuart beat the Tampa Catholic defense down low and was racing Vertino to a loose ball. Vertino took him down while diving for the ball and was called for the foul.
The Raiders would not waste the opportunity for a second penalty kick as J.J. Artega knifed — perhaps thinking that Vertino would dive left again, which he did — went left and easily netted it.
But Ransom’s lead lasted only two minutes deep into the second half. That’s when Catholic was awarded a free kick from 30 yards out that Michael Streeter dropped right in front of the net. Ferrer went to meet the shot but Bryson Boylan got a head on it first and blooped it over his head into the back of the net to make it 2-2.
Tampa Catholic (19-5-3) came inches from tying the score with 17 minutes left when Streeter lined up a free kick from 25 yards out and hit a laser that Ferrer couldn’t reach. But the ball doinked right off the crossbar and back out into play, where it was cleared.