A large contingent of Belen Jesuit supporters made the three-hour trip north to Melbourne High School to see if their Wolverines could make history.
And the massive celebration on the field when the final whistle blew told the story as the Belen faithful got their wish: A 5-2 victory over Naples Gulf Coast in the Class 4A state championship game.
It was the first boys’ soccer state title in school history and capped a big week for Miami-Dade County schools as North Miami Beach Scheck Hillel and Ransom Everglades also became first-time state champions Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.
Overcome with emotion, Belen head coach Tanger Mendonca knelt to the ground, his hands trembling as he looked up to the heavens.
“This is incredible. One team, one dream, that’s the way it’s been for us all year,” Mendonca said. “This isn’t for me, this is for the kids, this school, this alumni. What a moment.”
The win marked the first time in history that Miami-Dade schools earned three boys’ state championship soccer trophies in the same year.
It also served as quite a sendoff for senior captain Francisco de la Camara, who, just five goals short of the county season-scoring record of 61, almost got there as he scored a hat trick to finish his season with 59 goals, two short of the mark set by Ransom’s Nikko Hurtado four years ago.
“This is amazing, what an unbelievable feeling,” de la Camara said. “What an incredible way to close out my high school career. I’m so happy for my teammates because we worked so hard for this.”
STRONG SECOND HALF
Locked in a 1-1 tie at the half, Belen turned the second half into a shooting gallery at Gulf Coast keeper JP McGaunn. The Wolverines took a lead they would never lose just 69 seconds into the second half. That’s when Anthony Castro got a loose ball down low and managed to get a head on it over to Tavish Rice, who knocked it past McGaunn.
“I’m not sure how long it will take for this to sink in,” Rice said while being mobbed by students near the fence as all the players went to celebrate. “When you go to Belen, you’re really just one big family and you saw how many fans drove up here for this tonight. We really focused this year on being a family and I think we proved it tonight.”
With the Belen student body still screaming and yelling about Rice’s goal, it was time for de la Camara to get in on the action.
He took a line pass down the left side and broke loose. From about 20 yards out, he rocketed a shot with his left foot over the outstretched arms of McGaunn and into the top right corner of the net to make it 3-1 with 33:31 left.
But if the Wolverines thought they was in cruise control, it was anything but.
With 26:21 left, Gulf Coast was awarded a penalty kick when Sebastian Joffre beat the Belen defense down the right side and was fouled in the box by Castro. Joffre took the PK and rifled it into the top right corner of the net to trip Belen’s lead to 3-2.
DE LA CAMARA CLINCHES IT
But just three minutes later de la Camara beat the Gulf Coast defense down the middle again and knifed his second goal of the game in the back of the net to make it 4-2 with 23:07 left.
He wasn’t done. It was time for a hat trick and it took him all of another three minutes as he took a nice drop pass down low from Rice and rifled it past a weary McGaunn, and it was 5-2 with 20:31 left and time for those Belen faithful to start whooping it up.
“We wanted to come out strong in the second half and really take control and that’s exactly what we did,” de la Camara said. “All the goals? That’s pretty cool but the ultimate goal was the state title because it’s all about team around here, not individual accomplishments.”
Said Castro: “This is amazing. A dream that started four years ago when I made varsity as a freshman and we’ve always had tough losses in regionals when we thought we were good enough to win state then. This was the goal, we united as brothers and went out there and got it done.”