DELAND — Redemption had been on the mind of the Canterbury boys soccer team as soon as it was dethroned from the top of Class 2A by Pine School last season, losing on a last-minute goal in its state title repeat bid.
In Thursday’s 2A final again against the Knights, the Cougars painfully had to watch Pine celebrating with the championship trophy again.
Goals from Max Charles in the first half and Christian Kerr in the second half were enough to send Pine School to back-to-back state championships with a 2-1 victory at Spec Martin Stadium on the campus of Stetson University.
Senior Jayson Gordon gave Canterbury life, scoring in the 70th minute off a cross from Will Hall but it was a rare match in which the Cougars were on their heels under immense pressure defensively for most of it.
“To be completely honest, we were flat, we were as flat as we’ve ever been in a first half of a game,” Canterbury head coach Jared Rust said. “As much as I’m all for giving credit, I think we really made (Pine School) look excellent and we were just so poor in the first 40 minutes. We finally started getting back into a little bit of who we are in the second half and the game changed and we went toe-to-toe.”
In a battle of teams that arguably are strongest from their backline to their keeper, it was the Cougars, the 2A champions from 2020-21, who did generate some early pressure, testing Pine School’s center backs.
Pine School senior goalkeeper Javier Barbosa, a Stetson commit, snuffed out a dangerous Canterbury cross in front of his own goal in the opening minutes and shortly after, Knights senior defender Aidan Skelly had a critical clear of another inviting ball sent into the box from Cougar center back Conor Thomas, who made a surging run of well over 50 yards forward.
In the ninth minute, a key tackle won by Skelly on his own touchline to snuff out another Cougar opportunity led to the opening goal.
Pine School senior Henry Alexandrescu carried the ball down the right flank and worked into the middle of the field trying to slide the ball through to senior Kerr.
After the ball went through a tangle of legs, Canterbury goalkeeper Mason Ricker dove to grab the ball but with Thomas and fellow defender Zachary Bevington trying to clear the ball away, the ball popped free and right to Charles, who found the wide-open net to put the Knights (14-3-2) ahead.
In the second half, with Canterbury needing to increase the tempo for their attack going forward, Ricker had to make another key save, denying Alexandrescu on a sliding save on a tight angle in the opening minutes.
Pine School added to its lead in the 51st minute as Kerr, who often was used as a substitute during the season, found space with the ball up top and was able to slide a shot that beat Ricker to his near post from the top of the box to make it 2-0 Knights.
Allowing two goals in a match for the first time all season, the Cougars (18-4-2) had to throw everything they had into the bucket and with 10 minutes to go, Gordon was able to volley a feed in off the right wing from Hall and beat Barbosa from close range giving Canterbury a shot late.
With 90 seconds to go, Hall had the ball come to his feet off the right side of the box but his attempted cross was blocked and cleared by Pine School senior Julian Restrepo. That was the final chance Canterbury would generate.
“There was a decent portion of our group that had been here before and there were a handful of guys that hadn’t done this before here and we had a lot of guys step up and take on big roles this year that hadn’t done it in the past,” Rust said. “It’s a different ballgame to be in a big role playing in a state championship.”
Despite the outcome, Rust beamed with pride due to the resilience and effort of every team member.
“It hurts, they had high hopes, as they should of this year,” Rust said. “The performance they put together this year, eight goals against, two being penalties in 24 games, we’ve been fantastic defensively. We had a fabulous year and hopefully, the other teams from our area can continue it.”
This article originally appeared on Fort Myers News-Press: Canterbury boys soccer falls for second year in a row to Pine School Class in 2A final