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Pair of goals in second half wash away frustration

By MIKE READLING, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 2, 2003

TAMPA -- With less than eight minutes to go in his team's Class 2A state championship game, Brandon's Jason Poole jogged to the sideline, reached down and picked up 27 years of futility.

As he peered into the cluster of players in front of the St. Augustine Nease goal, Poole cradled the hopes and dreams of a team that had been to the postseason only six times in the last 20 years.

The Eagles senior took two steps forward and arced a throw toward the center of the pack. The ball was heavy, Poole said, because it was waterlogged. It also couldn't have helped that it represented three region quarterfinal losses, a defeat in the sectionals in 1984 and yet another in the region championship game three years ago.

All of that became ancient history, however, when David Zettel outjumped his defender and buried Poole's throw-in in the back of the net.

Seven minutes, 34 seconds later the Eagles celebrated their first state title with a 3-1 victory at Ed Radice Sports Complex.

"We tried not to look at this as the biggest game we've ever played," senior Mike Guess said. "We just wanted to get through it thinking this is just another game."

In all honesty, Saturday was far from just another game for the Eagles, who finished the season 23-1-1 and are looking to improve on their No. 20 national ranking by Brandon's lone loss came during the Student Sports Tournament in December to Santa Margarita (Calif.), ranked No. 1 in the nation.

In typical Brandon style, the Eagles were forced Saturday to claw for everything they earned.

Nease (26-7) took the early lead on a redirected header by Brendan McCurdy in the eighth minute and then withstood Brandon's offensive domination the rest of the half. The Eagles finally tied it when Derek Goforth took a Ryan Macko pass and pushed a left-footer past keeper Kevin Gordon just before the half.

The teams traded momentum for the majority of the second half before Poole's throw to Zettel changed history. Andy Skiffington added an insurance goal with four minutes to go with a lob over Gordon's head from about 18 yards away.

"The ball weighed about five pounds, it was so waterlogged," Poole said. "I didn't even think about it. I just threw it across the box. It was heart that put it in the net. All heart.

"Hopefully everyone looks at Brandon like we're the best now. We are the team to beat."

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