As his team was about to receive its championship medals for defeating Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas 2-1 in Saturday's Class 5A final, Wharton forward Joe Layton didn't know whether to laugh or cry.
So he compromised and did a little of both.
"I've been thinking about winning this title since I was 7 or 8," a teary-eyed Layton said. "But this is 10 times better than I dreamed it would be."
You can bet that's partly because of how improbable this championship is. A month ago, the Wildcats (18-5-2) were 8-5-2 and the No.4 seed in their district.
"From fourth in the district to first in the state," Wharton coach Scott Ware said. "It's surreal."
For 72 minutes, the Wildcats dominated. In the final eight, they held on for dear life as St. Thomas Aquinas (22-6-4) put together a ferocious rally, scored once and came close to tying the game several other times.
Robert Sklaver and Layton, the tournament MVP, provided the scoring. Sklaver's 13th-minute goal off a Will Hunt assist, put Wharton ahead 1-0. The Wildcats struck again in the 36th minute when Layton fired a shot off Raiders keeper Kurt Levin, then headed the rebound off the crossbar and just barely into the net.
Clutching the championship trophy after his team's 3-0 win over Jacksonville Providence on Saturday, Tampa Prep senior Ryan Griffin, who once told teammates he hoped to win four state titles, seemed content with the fact his prediction was a bit off target.
He will graduate with only three.
"You know," Griffin said, smiling "three's not bad."
Behind the play of tournament MVP Wes Sever, Griffin and a host of others, Tampa Prep claimed its third title in four years.
Tampa Prep (27-2-2) created scoring opportunity after scoring opportunity and held the Stallions (19-7-2) without a shot on goal for the first 57 minutes.
In the 61st minute, Terrapins keeper Brad Sienkiewicz fired the ball downfield after a save. Sever passed to Anthony Baumann, who gave it right back as Sever knocked in a shot for a 2-0 lead. Twelve minutes later, Griffin blasted in a 25-yard free kick.
State boys soccer
All games at Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale.
Varela 2, Cypress Bay 1 (4-1 in penalty kicks)
Wharton 2, St. Thomas Aquinas 1
Tampa Prep 3, Providence 0