TAMPA — As the scoreboard clock at the University of Tampa's Pepin Stadium wound to zero, Seminole sophomore defender Tyler Zulewski pulled the front of his jersey over his face, covering his eyes.
For Seminole supporters in the crowd, Zulewski's reaction to the Warhawks' 4-1 loss to Melbourne in the Class 5A state championship would have been an appropriate way to watch the second half. Four second-half goals from the defending Class 6A state champions outdid a near-flawless first-half performance from Seminole to thwart the Warhawks' bid for a third state title, first in 5A.
"You can always play that second half over again," Seminole senior Brian Tyler said "You could probably do that the rest of your life."
For 40 minutes, Seminole had positioned itself at the top of the 5A heap. A nightmarish second half, however, erased what had been a dream performance.
"I think the boys had an incredible journey," Seminole coach Rick Masi said. "We don't like the result as it is. I've been on both sides of the coin."
Seminole's Shane Wixted grabbed the game's first goal in the 27th minute on a play set up by a Sean Rafferty free kick. Rafferty sent a bending ball into the box, Charles Lynch found the ball at his feet and sent a shot toward goal, but couldn't get much on it amid a host of defenders. The ball pinballed to Wixted, who pushed a shot off a Melbourne defender's leg and through another set of legs into the corner of the goal.
"The ball came to me, and I just trapped it," said Wixted, who also scored Seminole's lone goal in the semis. "Just hit it, and it went in the back of the net."
Seminole (18-9-2) carried the momentum from Wixted's goal through the first half, possessing the ball against the favored Bulldogs (23-1-2) and keeping Melbourne from creating any scoring opportunities. The Warhawks' advantage, though, came to a screeching halt almost the second the referee whistled the start of the second half.
Melbourne immediately moved the ball into the Seminole box, pressuring goalkeeper Ryan Downey. In the 42nd minute, a fortuitous bounce in the box rolled right into the path of Melbourne's Ryan Price, who clinically finished the scoring chance to draw the Bulldogs even.
Three minutes later, Price scored again. Melbourne made it 3-1 in the 58th minute when Trey Collins converted a two-on-none break. Price registered a hat trick in the 67th for the 4-1 final.
"If you asked me two months ago if we would be here, the odds in Vegas would have said, 'Anything you want to lay, baby. We'll take it,' " Masi said. "…(Melbourne's) a tremendous team. There's no disgrace losing to that team."