EAST LAKE — All St. Petersburg forward Junior Francis had to do was give teammate Sean Covington a quick glance. Covington knew what it meant: get Francis the ball and he would take care of the rest.
With minutes remaining Wednesday in a tie game against Class 5A, District 8 rival East Lake, Covington lofted a cross to Francis from 35 yards. Francis sped to the ball, leapt and flicked a header from 10 yards into the upper-right corner to give the Green Devils a 3-2 win.
“He saw me and I gave him a little look,” Francis said. “I knew once I got it all I had to do was give it a little flick. I just had to get it at its highest point and put it in.”
The win puts St. Petersburg (9-2-2, 4-1-1) atop the district with just a week left in the regular season.
St. Petersburg took a 2-0 first-half lead and didn’t waste any time doing it.
Covington scored the first goal when he blasted a knuckleball free kick from 25 yards in the third minute that appeared to fool goalkeeper William Wiard. In the 25th minute, Francis scored his first goal thanks to a perfectly placed cross by Steven Svoboda 5 yards in front of the net. Francis was able to redirect a right-footer into the open goal.
In the second half, East Lake (10-2-2) started to penetrate the defense and finally broke through in the 58th minute when Kevin Lindquist scored from about 5 yards out on a cross by Mathias Ghiena.
The Eagles continued to loiter in front of the St. Petersburg net and tied it in the 75th minute. Ghiena outjumped a group of players in front of the net and headed the ball into the upper-left corner.
Just moments later, East Lake’s Taylor Youngblood narrowly missed a goal when his header sailed over the crossbar. Then the Green Devils got a breakaway to Covington, who found Francis, who broke the Eagles’ hearts.
“I didn’t see that one coming,” East Lake coach Alex Stenson said. “We were pushing up to win it. Those things happen.”
St. Petersburg has made a habit of last-second wins. Francis was part of a comeback win over Seminole earlier in the season. Green Devils coach Rui Farias was hoping his team could hold the lead, but he knew it wouldn’t be easy.
“When you’re up 2-0, it’s the hardest lead in the world to defend,” Farias said. “When you’re up 1-0 you know you still have to work hard. Up 2-0, you tend to get kind of lazy.”