TAMPA — Their legs beginning to fail them after chasing around one of the state's top quick-strike offenses, the young Tampa Prep defenders could look at the clock and see the seconds tick down toward victory.
The Terrapins went into regulation's final two minutes of their Class 2A state semifinal Wednesday with Delray Beach American Heritage having shut out an offense that outscored opponents 58-2 this postseason.
Despite being on the defensive most of the game, they clung to a one-goal lead. UT's Pepin Stadium was full of Tampa Prep faithful — the Terps' campus being a block away — ready to celebrate taking the next step toward back-to-back state titles.
But in a matter of minutes, Tampa Prep's championship run fell short. The Stallions scored a devastating equalizer in the 79th minute of regulation then emerged with a 4-2 advantage on penalty kicks after the teams played to a 1-1 tie following 40-minute halves and two 10-minute sudden death overtimes.
"It was such a letdown," senior midfielder and co-captain Taylor Richardson said. "We worked our butts off the whole game and to give it away in the last minute is the worst feeling, especially losing in PKs.
"I cannot be more proud of our defense and the heart they had. I had all four of them come up to me and say, 'Dude, I don't think I can do it. My legs are killing me,' and they just played (100) minutes of soccer."
A year ago, Tampa Prep won the state title against American Heritage on penalty kicks. This year, the Stallions got revenge.
"PKs isn't the way to go, but someone had to go," Tampa Prep coach Pam Smith said. "You'll take it on a win. I can't blame them. We took it last year."
In the 33rd minute, Richardson broke free off a throw-in and gave the Terrapins a 1-0 lead. As Richardson kicked the ball, she fell onto her back and watched the goal hit the back net, remaining on the ground a few moments raising her hands exaltedly.
The Terps (17-4-3) had broken through. It was their first — and only — shot on goal.
The Terrapins' defense —full of sophomores and freshmen — held until American Heritage leading scorer Tatiana Penagos followed up a rebound and snuck the ball inside the far post.
American Heritage (21-3-3) outshot Tampa Prep 9-1, but elimination came by way of penalty kicks. After the Stallions took a 4-2 lead, and when goalkeeper Brittany Polly stopped Colby Maffei's low shot, the Terrapins' run ended.
"This season was one of the strongest seasons we've had yet," Richardson said. "I had no idea where this game was going to go and we held them 1-0 the entire game, and that says a lot about this entire team."