WESLEY CHAPEL — When your team is ranked first in Florida and in the top 10 nationally, it usually doesn’t get rattled by being down in a boys soccer game.
So even though Palm Harbor University trailed by two goals at the half and found itself down a goal with less than 20 minutes left, there was no panic on the squad. They just kept on with the pressure. In the end, that paid off.
Paul Ciulei’s second goal of the game in the 76th minute lifted the Hurricanes to a wild 4-3 victory at Wiregrass Ranch on Friday to win the Class 5A, District 7 championship.
"We knew we had to keep believing, keep fighting and keep on our game," Ciulei said. "To get the fourth title in the row, especially for our seniors, it’s huge."
With the victory, the Hurricanes (16-0-1) will host Sarasota Riverview in the 5A, Region 2 semifinals Wednesday. Wiregrass Ranch (24-4-1) will go on the road to take on Lakewood Ranch.
"I told the kids we just needed one goal," said Palm Harbor coach Wipoj Huse. "I thought that we played well even though we were down 2-0. I told them to keep digging. It just showed their heart."
Wiregrass Ranch (24-4-1) led 2-0 at the half on goals by Malcolm Lewis and Ryan Al Katib but that lead got quickly erased in the second stanza.
Daniel Patterson (penalty kick) and Lucas Gelep scored within the first four minutes of second-half play to tie the game. The Bulls went up 3-2 when Ryan Luedde settled a free kick and fired it in the net eight minutes later.
It stayed that way for the next 24 minutes until Ciulei’s header off a free kick tied the game at 3. Then in the closing minutes, Ciulei took advantage of a turnover and netted the game winner.
The Bulls hope they get one more shot at the Hurricanes.
"We’re not done yet," Wiregrass Ranch coach David Wilson said. "Although this is disappointing to watch the other team celebrating with the trophy and not us, our season still goes on. … We have to clean a couple of things up but hopefully we get to see them next Saturday."