TAMPA — East Lake coach Sergei Stopek prepares his teams for games that play out like Thursday night's Class 5A region quarterfinal against Jesuit.
He knew a game like this one — between nationally ranked teams — could come down to one play. It might have come down to one call.
The Eagles' season ended with sudden-death penalty kicks (5-4) after the teams played to a 1-1 tie through regulation and two overtimes, marking the second straight season East Lake's season was ended by Jesuit.
But the Eagles couldn't help but think back to a controversial goal 12 minutes into the game.
Jesuit's only goal came after a scramble in front of the net following a corner kick, but it appeared that scramble came after East Lake goalkeeper David Kirkbridge got his hand on the first shot. The ball hit off the post, then off the football field-goal post just above — which should be a dead ball — and back into play.
"You hope for all three teams do their jobs: the opponents, your team and the third crew," Stopek said, picking his words carefully. "I don't know what else to say. I'm trying to be very professional here, but that is so hard for this group."
East Lake (19-2-4) fought back, with Josh Gonzalez scoring about six minutes later on a crossing pass from Nicholas Patterson, but after Tigers goalkeeper Robert Kouwe stopped Brett Hummel's final PK attempt, it was all over.
The Eagles controlled the pace most of the game after tying the score. But Stopek couldn't help but wish the game had ended differently.
"I'm happy that my kids fought back," Stopek said. "We actually try to plan for stuff like that in our training, like if there's a bad call that doesn't go your way you keep playing. And we did not stop."