JACKSONVILLE — For Palm Harbor University and coach Alex Delgado, the season came to an end 1.3 seconds too soon.
That’s how much time remained on the scoreboard in the second overtime when Mandarin’s Eric Han scored the sudden-death goal that put the Mustangs (24-3-3) into the Class 5A final for the first time.
With 15 seconds to play in the second overtime and the score tied at 1, Mandarin’s Shane Osborn lofted a high free kick into the box from the halfway line.
After a scramble, Hurricanes keeper Josh Preisig lunged to block a shot from Cody Wegener, but Han arrived to follow up with a half-volley on the rebound.
Mandarin landed the first blow in the 35th minute, when Wegener took possession after a midfield interception by Cody Tarczynski and aimed a dipping shot from 30 yards that squeezed between the diving Preisig and the crossbar.
The Hurricanes struggled to mount pressure in the first half against a stout Mandarin defense that was superbly organized by senior co-captain John Mella. A light rain that began midway through the period made the field slick and contributed to 40 fouls and numerous turnovers.
PHU tied the score after 61 minutes. Fullback Robert Sennabaum, playing up front after the halftime break, punished a missed Mandarin clearance and drove a low shot past keeper Mark Darling and into the corner of the net.
Preisig made seven saves to keep PHU (17-2-4) in the game late in the second half, coming out three times to deny Klajdi Basko on breakaways.
Making the defeat even more painful for the Hurricanes was a near miss on a potential winner just one minute before Mandarin’s goal, when a header by freshman Codey Iturri bounced off the crossbar.
“Our motto all year long was fight to the end, and that’s what we did,” said Delgado. “We competed to the end. We were unlucky tonight, and that’s just one of those things. That’s the game of soccer.”