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 fourth seed in their own 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. During the final eight, they held on for dear life as St. Thomas Aquinas (22-6-4) put together a ferocious rally that saw the Raiders score once and come close to tying the game several other times.
In fact, the teams might still be going at it if not for the play of Wharton keeper Scott Montgomery.
"My heart was pumping loud," Montgomery said.
Robert Sklaver and Layton, the tournament MVP, provided the scoring. Sklaver's goal in the 13th minute off a Will Hunt assist put Wharton ahead 1-0.
"I think that pumped us up," Sklaver said.
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.
The title might have been unlikely, but it wasn't a fluke.
To reach the playoffs, Wharton beat the district's top seed, Bloomingdale. To reach the final four, it beat archrival Freedom and defending state champ Auburndale. To reach the final, the Wildcats beat Jesuit, which was ranked No. 5 in the country by USA Today.
On Saturday, Wharton beat a St. Thomas Aquinas team that had not allowed a goal in six games.
"We earned this," Ware said. "We played with the best and beat the best."
State boys soccer
All games at Lockhart Stadium, Fort Lauderdale.
Class 6A: Varela 2,Cypress Bay 1 (4-1 in penalty kicks)
Class 5A: Wharton 2, St. Thomas Aquinas 1
Class 2A: Tampa Prep 3, Providence 0