NEW PORT RICHEY — It stood to be a pivotal moment regardless, what with all 22 players on the field converging in what threatened to become an all-out fracas.
What emerged from the scuffle, and a 10-minute sorting-out period, helped lead Sunlake to a 1-0 victory over River Ridge and securing of the top seed for the Class 5A, District 8 boys soccer tournament.
Freshman Maguire Anderson, called up from junior varsity midway through the season, put home the winning goal with three minutes left for the Seahawks (16-1-1). River Ridge's two losses have both been to the perennial district champs, each by 1-0 scores.
"Absolutely they're a challenge (to Sunlake's district hopes) this year," said Sunlake coach Sam Koleduk. "It always seems to come down to the last few minutes against them."
Koleduk's persistence led to Sunlake having a man advantage for the final 20 minutes. A collision at midfield led to one Knights player receiving his second yellow card, and initially Sunlake senior captain Anthony Rodrigues was also popped with a second yellow.
But, after a long discussion with the officials, it was determined they incorrectly gave Rodrigues the infraction.
"They just had the wrong number. It's a good thing I went out there," Koleduk said.
River Ridge, which it could be argued had the better of play for the first hour, was forced to play for 0-0 but couldn't stop Anderson. After a Knights' free kick was turned away the ball was cleared to midfield, where Anderson collected it and scored.
It was his ninth goal in just seven games, after scoring a dozen with the JV.
"His speed and strength, really, is why we called him up. Considering how young we are, and all we lost, we're doing pretty well," Koleduk said.
Sunlake's top three scorers last season were all seniors and accounted for 109 of the team's 144 goals.
Seahawks sophomore Jake Rodrigues gave an impassioned speech at halftime, telling his team the Knights were more pumped up to play, and the resulting second-half effort was noticeable. Still the Knights almost took the lead on 47 minutes when Sebastion Paz's header went barely past the right post.
The Royal Knights (12-2) have no time to mope, with their next two games against Gulf — which handed Sunlake its lone draw — and Mitchell next week.