Boys soccer: Wildcats upend rival

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
Published January 26, 2008

TAMPA - How big is the Freedom-Wharton soccer rivalry to the players who suited up in Friday night's district final?

Well, consider this:

After scoring the clinching penalty kick in Wharton's thrilling 2-1 win, Wildcats striker Joe Layton said beating the Patriots was better than earning a state championship.

"I," Layton said, pointing to the Freedom bench, "know every person on that team."

Not only was the game played at an extremely high level, but it was incredibly physical. Players battled hard for 100 minutes, and the play was fast and furious.

At the match's end, everyone in attendance was exhausted. Physically or emotionally.

"Every time these two teams play, it's always emotional," Wharton coach Scott Ware said.

Freedom (20-5), which scored in the 25th minute on a shot by Taylor Nalls, looked to have a slight edge in the first half. But Wharton (13-5-2) tied it on Layton's header in the 47th minute.

Then it was back and forth.

In the first overtime, both squads had chances to end it. Ditto for overtime No. 2.

In the penalty-kick session, Wharton keeper Scott Montgomery stopped back-to-back Freedom shots, then Layton drilled one in for a 4-2 lead, which iced it. He raced toward the stands and ran the length of the field to celebrate with teammates and fans.

"That's the first PK winner in my life," Layton said. "It feels amazing."

Wharton 2 Freedom 1

Wharton wins 4-2 on penalty kicks