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By SCOTT PURKS
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 25, 2001
TAMPA -- It wasn't strange that Jesuit won the Class 2A state title Saturday. What else would you expect? Jesuit came in 29-2, was ranked No. 2 in the nation by foxstudentsports.com, No. 1 in the FACA state poll and had won four of the past six state titles.
Plus the Tigers' final challenger was Riviera Beach Suncoast, a surprising survivor with a 15-5-2 record. Many predicted a Jesuit victory by five or six.
So here's the strange thing: Jesuit didn't score.
In the 77th minute, after missing countless opportunities, Jesuit's John Kluft crossed a ball that bounced off a Suncoast defender's back and into the net.
Jesuit led 1-0, which is how it ended.
"It is a little weird, winning that way," Jesuit coach Bob Bauman said. "I honestly can't remember winning on an own goal in the past five years. But we'll take it.
"Today, we were the better team, and whether we won on an own goal, or in overtime or on penalty kicks, I felt like we deserved it. I felt like we dominated the play."
And they did it despite being down a man for most of the game. In the 21st minute, Tom Szvetitz was red-carded for tackling a Suncoast player.
"That hurt, but we still kept the pressure on them," Kluft said. "And even though I'd say we played poorly and missed so many opportunities (Jesuit outshot Suncoast 18-8), I think this shows how strong this team is.
"We kept attacking, and I never thought we weren't going to win. This group has played together since we were 5 years old, and I know they never had a doubt either. We had to win, especially after the way it ended last year."
Jesuit, which started nine seniors and sometimes had 11 on the field Saturday, lost in last season's final 3-1 to Orlando Bishop Moore.
Then the Tigers lost Rob Daly (52 goals in 2000), Erol Belli (15) and Dave Ellis (15) to graduation, and top scorer Bryce Wegerle transferred to Gaither.
This season's Tigers countered by turning up their defense, allowing a school-record 17 goals while compiling 19 shutouts (including nine consecutive).
They snapped California Bellarmine's 58-game winning streak with a 3-1 win in the Puma Invitational and followed the same day with a 3-1 win to snap Lake Mary's 15-game winning streak.
Jesuit then rolled through six playoff games, outscoring opponents 20-2 entering the final, where Bauman admitted squirming through a sluggish start.
"You hear that 30 percent of the time the best team doesn't win," he said. "And when we kept missing all those chances, and then they had a couple of decent chances, you start thinking a little bit that maybe we're in that 30 percent. But we kept up the pressure, and it all worked out."
In the end, Jesuit's seniors piled on top of each other in the center of Pepin/Rood Stadium. There was Szvetitz and there was keeper Justin Trowbridge, who played despite being diagnosed with mononucleosis a few weeks ago.
They were all there, arguably the best senior class in Jesuit history.
"I remember a parent coming up to me five years ago and saying, "with these boys coming into your school, you're not only going to win state titles, but you might win a national title as well," Bauman said.
"Well, I'd say that's quite a testament to these kids to have all but fulfilled a prophecy suggested even before they came to the school. Are they the best Jesuit team ever? You could certainly make a strong argument for them. No doubt about that."