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TAMPA - With the clock winding down in Friday's game against Auburndale and his team ahead by two, Wharton midfielder Matt Montgomery admitted his eyes left the ball and headed straight to the scoreboard.
"I think I looked at it like four times (in the last two minutes)," Montgomery said. "I knew we had it."
Yes, they did.
Thanks to a rock-solid effort on both sides of the field, the Wildcats defeated the defending state champions 3-1 to earn the program's first trip to the final four. Before this season, they had never gotten past the second round. Once 8-5-2 and the fourth seed in its district, Wharton (16-5-2) heads to Fort Lauderdale's Lockhart Stadium next week riding an eight-game winning streak.
"I just told them something I've wanted to say to them all day, 'Pack your bags,'" Wildcats coach Scott Ware said.
Behind first-half goals from forward Ryan Asare-Bediako and Montgomery, Wharton led 2-0 at the break and seemed to have complete control. But Auburndale (17-7-4) responded four minutes into the second half with a score by Hunter Albritton.
Instead of tensing up, Wharton rose to the occasion.
In the 64th minute, forward Joe Layton took a pass in the penalty box, slipped past one defender and fired the ball into the net.
Down the stretch, the Wharton offense continued to attack.
"We were prepared," Bloodhounds coach Bill Johnson said. "I think we just got beat by a better team."