CLEARWATER — Countryside goalkeeper Danny George could think of just one thing Friday when the head referee held up one finger in the Class 6A region semifinal against Winter Garden West Orange.
"This is going to be the longest minute I've ever had to experience," George said.
With the Cougars clinging to a 2-1 lead, George was correct as the Warriors sent every player forward, including keeper Juan Fajardo. George was peppered with one shot after another — five in the final minute — until at last the final whistle sounded, setting off a wild celebration by fans and players at midfield.
"I just didn't want anything like the Plant game to happen again," George said in reference to last season's heartbreaker in which Countryside allowed Plant to score in the final minute of regulation then in overtime in a 2-1 defeat in the region semifinals. "We've worked so hard to get back to this point and beyond, I don't think I could have taken it if the same thing happened again."
The Cougars (23-1-1), No. 9 in the ESPN Rise poll, got off to a slow start then broke through early in the second half when Taylor Cook found Nikolai Hammer open at the top of the goalmouth and Hammer easily put it past Fajardo.
Countryside's next goal with eight minutes to play typified the way the Cougars have played all season as Dalton Martinez received a pass from his brother, Jagger, and took the ball into the corner, where he chipped a cross over to the middle part of the penalty box. Derya Ekren, with his back to the goal, did a mini-bicycle kick sending the ball into the left corner of the goal.
The Warriors (13-2-1) made the game interesting 25 seconds later when Evan Cartwright put in a header off a cross on a corner kick by Camillo Villa.
"It's been tough because we've had the talent but for whatever reason, we haven't been able to capitalize on it," Countryside coach Dave Sica said. "We've faced adversity throughout the year and from season to season, but when this group decides to work, they're capable of achieving big things."