PALM HARBOR — Perhaps Palm Harbor University was still shaken from a 6-0 loss to East Lake last week in the final of the Clearwater Thanksgiving Challenge.
Or maybe it was the extended layoff over the Thanksgiving break. The Hurricanes took a four-day break before practicing Monday for the first time since that East Lake defeat.
Whatever the reason, the Hurricanes were sluggish in the first half Tuesday of their district match against St. Petersburg, prompting coach Alex Delgado to challenge his team at halftime.
The result: two second-half goals and a 2-0 PHU victory over the Green Devils in the district opener for both.
"I talked to these boys at halftime; we kind of had a heart-to-heart, rude awakening," Delgado said. "We were just emotionless. No passion. I asked them at halftime if they wanted to be here, and they said yes, which was a lie.
"So, I called them all out and told them never to lie to me again."
Hurricanes senior defender Vincent Esposito took Delgado's words to heart. Five minutes into the second half, Esposito corralled a loose ball in the box and blasted a low shot toward the far post that beat St. Petersburg goalkeeper Tony Liebel for the first goal.
"Delgado basically called us all out on all of our mistakes in the first half," Esposito said. "It kind of fueled everybody. … We wanted to show him that we know how to play together. People started playing for each other instead of themselves."
Esposito, a transfer from East Lake, is playing his first season with the Hurricanes (5-1-2).
"Vincent has been a great player for this team," Delgado said. "… His work ethic is unbelievable, and he deserved that goal. I think he's going to step up for us. We need somebody to step up for us."
Fifteen minutes later, P.J. McDonald wrapped up the win by sending a rocket into goal off a cross from Robert Sennabaum.
"The second half they did a much better job," Delgado said. "It's all about effort. They stepped up the effort and the game changed."
St. Petersburg (1-3-1) had a handful of scoring chances late, but PHU backup goalkeeper A.J. Michelotti made three saves in the closing minutes to preserve the shutout.
For a St. Petersburg team that starts five freshmen and is made up mostly of ninth- and 10th-graders, coach Rui Farias was pleased with the effort if not the result.
"I thought we played exceptionally well tonight," Farias said. "Palm Harbor put their two chances away. We had four chances at the end we couldn't convert. It could have been a much different game, but we're getting better every game."