LUTZ — It had been there before not even two weeks ago. Steinbrenner, back up against the wall, overcame a man-down situation and an East Lake lead to force overtime and snatch its first district title away from the Eagles.
Tuesday in the Warriors’ home-field rematch with East Lake in a Class 5A region semifinal, the Eagles took the lead twice in the second half. But Steinbrenner scored three goals in a nine-minute span to force overtime.
This time around, however, the Warriors — who had slipped by in overtime in their past two games — didn’t have enough late-game magic left to come out on top, and East Lake won 4-3 after an Alejandro Gonzalez golden goal in the third minute of overtime.
After the game, the Eagles danced on their opponent’s home turf with Gonzalez on their shoulders, celebrating the roller coaster of a game they had just won and the regional championship match in their future.
East Lake coach Alex Stenson said he was proud of his boys for getting the win against a team he once called the best in the state, but he could hardly believe how they earned it.
“We just didn’t kill them off when we could have and should have,” a relieved Stenson said, bringing his hands to his head. “Oh my god, I can’t get over that one.”
It could have been easier. After goals from Pierre Goris and Dino Papadopoulos, the Eagles (16-2-1) took a 2-0 lead just three minutes after halftime. For an Eagles’ defense that had been nearly impenetrable all night, the second goal was almost as good as a game-winner come early. Maybe against another team, but not Steinbrenner (17-2-1).
The Warriors, now used to coming back from behind, scored a goal in the 66th minute off a Blake Wilson penalty kick, and again in the 67th when Andres Saenz scored off an assist from Zachary Yarish.
That tie wouldn’t last, as Daniel Mahler slipped one right through Steinbrenner goalkeeper Christian Knight’s hands five minutes later. Steinbrenner got yet another equalizer when Noah Keene turned a pass from Austin Labban into a goal with just three minutes to play.
The rematch featured extreme highs and lows for both teams in the final 15 minutes of regulation, but it didn’t take long for East Lake to put the Warriors out of their misery once and for all.
Three minutes into the 10-minute overtime half, Gonzalez’ goal, his first of the season, ended the Warriors’ postseason run.
“The ball was rolling for a good time. I just ran to it, kicked it with my left hoping it would go in,” said a beaming Gonzalez. “Once I saw the ball go in, I just had a burst of excitement.”
On the other side of the field, the Warriors were still, taking in the finality of it all.
“We’re evenly matched. East Lake’s one of the best team’s in the state of Florida, and so are we,” Steinbrenner coach Chad Ebright said. “You just fight. That’s all it is.”