PALM HARBOR — East Lake coach Alex Stenson warned after Wednesday's semifinal of the Hurricane Watch tournament that Palm Harbor University would be a dangerous opponent in Friday night's final. Stenson hit that prediction right on the head.
The Hurricanes scored two second half goals to break open a tie game and also played tight defense to defeat the Eagles 3-1. The win was PHU's first against East Lake in three tries this season.
"We're still a work in progress but I'm happy with the win," PHU coach Wipoj Huse said. "We kept possession well and we finished well. We finished when we had to. I think more than anything we proved that we can play at this level."
PHU (12-6) played at a high level the entire game. With the score tied at 1, the winner came with 29 minutes left on a free kick from long range.
Jacob Carson set up 45 yards from goal and launched a high arching kick into the box. Jacob Harris, a 6-foot-4 forward, timed his jumped perfectly and headed the kick into the right corner of the goal to make it 2-1.
"Jacob bent the ball in perfectly," Harris said. "I timed it right and just flicked it in. It was basically, get it in there to the big guys and see what happens."
Any thought of an East Lake comeback ended with 10 minutes left when Channing Pezet scored on a perfect give-and-go with Codey Iturri. Pezet passed to Iturri, who dribbled then played a perfect back heel pass back to Pezet.
He found himself free in the 18-yard box and knocked in a right-footer from about 10 yards.
The Hurricanes peppered the net for much of the game and especially in the first half. They finally capitalized in the 24th minute. Kieran McGeough headed a cross inside the 18-yard box that beat goalkeeper Jeff Richmond. That header came after two near misses on headers by Tyler Kaminski.
The lead did not last long.
Just two minutes later, Dino Papadopoulus broke free on the right side and launched a shot from 10 yards out that found the left corner of the goal.
East Lake (14-2) will get a chance to play next week in the PCAC final against south division winner Northeast on Friday. PHU will not play against until Tuesday, Jan. 20 against Alonso in the first round of the Class 5A, District 7 tournament.
"All in all I would say they deserved the win," Stenson said. "They get some bragging rights."