Ninth-ranked University of Tampa used its Hillsborough High School connection Saturday night to move back into the NCAA Division II national championship picture when it defeated No. 3 Florida Tech 3-1 in front of 586 people at slippery Pepin-Rood Stadium.
Both teams entered the game without a loss or tie in Sunshine State Conference play, but in their final home game of the season, the Spartans (11-2-0 overall, 6-0-0 SSC) most likely earned a higher post-season seed than the Panthers (12-2-1, 4-1-0) as well as gaining the inside track towards their ninth conference title in 13 years.
Saint Leo (12-5, 4-1) could force a three-way tie for the SSC title if it can upset the Spartans in their regular-season finale on Wednesday. UT has won nine in a row.
"Obviously, this doesn't put us in the final four, but to beat them handily is a psychological boost for us," UT coach Tom Fitzgerald said. "We showed great composure and character and all the individual aspects of our game were clicking."
Adrian Bush, a fifth-year senior from Tampa's oldest high school, scored his seventh goal of the season on a feed from another former Terrier, junior Sergio Jaramillo, in the 11th minute. It was Bush's seventh goal of the season and the 56th of his college career, one shy of Peter Johansson's career record.
Florida Tech tied the game at the 32-minute mark on a direct free kick by senior Colin Prest, who bent a low shot around UT's wall and past goalkeeper David Winner from 24 yards out.
Hustling play by Jaramillo in the opening seconds of the second half put the Spartans up to stay. The midfielder slashed through the defense down the left side and crossed to senior Martin Nebrelius, whose header from the top of the 6-yard box beat Martin Peat, his team-high 11th goal of the season.
Prest was red-carded for dangerous play in the 57th minute, putting the Panthers a man down. Ulf Lilius scored in the 88th minute on an assist by Bush.