PALM HARBOR — Palm Harbor University and East Lake will meet in the 5A-9 district final for the fourth year in a row.
Both teams, however, had a tougher than expected journey to reach the championship.
Tarpon Springs stayed within striking distance of top-seeded PHU on Wednesday until Matthew Tobin's goal with 10 minutes remaining gave the Hurricanes a two-goal lead. PHU's Robby Mattei scored his first goal of the season with a minute remaining to make the final 4-1.
"We knew Tarpon was a much better team than the one we played earlier in the year," PHU coach Alex Delgado said. "I give them all the credit in the world."
PHU (18-4-4) scored twice in the first eight minutes to take a 2-0 lead. Alex Millette gathered a pass on the right edge of the box and slotted a shot past Tarpon goalkeeper Drew Kier for the Hurricanes' first goal. Three minutes later, Tobin scored from close range to make it 2-0.
With 18 minutes left in the half, Tarpon (7-7-1) sent a free kick on goal that hit the crossbar, and the Spongers' Wesley Charpie was there to head in the rebound.
Kier (nine saves) kept Tarpon close in the second half.
Earlier, No. 2 seed East Lake slid past third-seeded Dunedin 1-0 despite benching seven starters in the first half for showing up late to a pregame meeting.
"I hope it sends a message," East Lake coach Sergei Stopek said. "If we come out determined and focused and driven, we can compete with anybody. But I'm not going to let that slip."
In the 15th minute, East Lake's Drew Smith sent a free kick into the box that Brett Hummel headed into goal.
East Lake (19-0-4) outshot Dunedin (8-5-2) 19-6.