Florida Championships 2016: St. Thomas Aquinas Outlasts Ponte Vedra 13-11
The undefeated St. Thomas Aquinas Raiders, a team that has made it deeper into the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs the last few seasons, outlasted Ponte Vedra 13-11 Saturday night for its first state championship in a back-and-forth battle that saw two incredible performances by both team's goalkeepers.
Mikey Adler (St. Joseph's), following up his terrific showing in the Raiders' 11-10 triple overtime semifinal win over the Benjamin School, led the St. Thomas Aquinas defense Saturday night, tallying 14 saves against a talented offense led by future Division I players. Some of the senior's saves, including two early in the third quarter, were key in allowing St. Thomas to keep the momentum and get the ball down into the hands of some of the players who stepped up on offense.
Senior attackman Kevin Crowley (Hofstra), the son of St. Thomas Aquinas head coach Terry Crowley, led the way with five goals in the contenst. His back-to-back goals coming just 44 seconds apart in the fourth quarter would prove to be the difference on the scoreboard. Senior two-way midfielder Brennan Harhart (U.S. Merchant Marine Academy) scored three goals, including two that came 42 seconds apart in a trio of scores that helped put the Raiders in front in the second quarter and get out to an 8-7 lead by the half.
Senior midfielder Lou Yovino (Furman), a monster between the lines and a major threat on offense with his athleticism and hard shot, collected two goals in the win, but added a number of key plays to keep possession in his team's hands, including a big hit that turned the ball over and directly led to a transition goal that gave the Raiders a 9-7 lead with 11 seconds left in the third.
With the victory, St. Thomas Aquinas completes the undefeated season, wrapping up the year at 19-0. The win also serves as redemption for a squad that reached the state quarterfinals in 2013, the state semis in 2014 and then the state championship last year, where the Raiders fells to Lake Highland Prep by the same score as this year's finale, 13-11.
Reaching the state championship for the first time, the Sharks entered the game also unbeaten, sitting at 23-0 after their impressive 16-11 victory over last year's champion, Lake Highland Prep.
Facing 51 shots in the game, Ponte Vedra sophomore keeper Wyatt Schupler -- who, like Adler, was a difference-maker in the semifinals -- essentially matched Adler's showing in the championship with 14 saves of his own. Offensively, the Sharks got three goals and an assist from junior Reid Smith (Delaware), a first-half hat trick from junior Clay Welch (Binghamton) and two goals and an assist from senior Matt Keeler (Jacksonville).
Handed its first loss of the season, Ponte Vedra finishes the year with an impressive 23-1 record.
In the flurry of excitement and commotion after the game, with St. Thomas players, fans, friends and family members celebrating en masse, we managed to snag some interviews. See what St. Thomas seniors Adler and Yovino as well as head coach Terry Crowley had to say about the big win when the dust settled.