LAKELAND, Fla. - Jonathan Glenn and Brandon Whitsett are a pair of all-conference players for Saint Leo who both played a big role for the Lions on Wednesday night. With the game hanging in the balance, though, it was an unheralded freshman who played the role of hero as Bobby Huertas scored the game-winning goal with 3:44 remaining to lift the Lions to a 2-1 victory in Sunshine State Conference action from FSC’s Barnett Field.
Saint Leo (6-5-1, 3-2 SSC) and Florida Southern (3-9, 2-4 SSC) had played to a scoreless draw at halftime, and each team scored midway through the second half. That left the game still tied going into the final minutes, setting the stage for Huertas, a rookie midfielder from nearby Lutz who had scored only once on five shots prior to Wednesday night. The goal was a strange one too.
Daniel Asher set up the play with an attack down the left flank before sending a long cross-field pass toward the far post. Moccasin goalkeeper Johan Jonsson appeared to have the ball in his sights but collided hard with the goal post as he leaped in the air to grab it. With Jonsson shaken up on the play, Huertas stepped in and knocked home the shot for only his second goal of the year.
It spoiled a strong game by Jonsson too, as the sophomore goalkeeper made six saves on the night, more than one of them a difficult play. He had earlier denied Huertas with a kick save in the 74th minute that kept the game tied at one.
The first half saw only six shots taken, with Saint Leo holding a 4-2 advantage. Most of those early chances by the Lions were from outside the box, but they also tested the Moccasins with seven corner kicks during the first 45 minutes. One of those came after Jonsson had to tip a header by Scott Stefanek over the crossbar.
Despite those numbers, it was Florida Southern which had the best scoring chance of the first half. After creating a turnover near midfield, the Mocs quickly pushed forward with Patrik Dandanell taking the ball into the box. Goalkeeper Griffin Pharr came out to challenge him and forced Dandanell to shoot wide to the right.
Immediately after halftime, the Mocs threatened again when Garrett Gaa got possession seconds after the kickoff and sent a strong cross into the box, but Pharr grabbed it before a shot could be taken. The Lions had barely caught their breath after that play when Sebastian Haupt fired a shot from the right wing that Pharr saved with less than two minutes gone in the second half.
Momentum then swung back the other way, and Jonsson was forced to make two big plays in the 51st and 58th minutes to keep the game scoreless. The first one saw Leonardo Nogueira send a downfield pass into the left side of the box for Karl Rydeborn-Tapper. Jonsson came out aggressively, though, and made a sliding stop. He then made a diving save on a stunning 40-yard shot by defender Juan Chavez after the Moccasins had initially cleared another Saint Leo corner kick.
Saint Leo finally did score when Glenn was able to side-step the Moccasin defense inside the box in the 60th minute for a close-range shot that resulted in his sixth goal of the season.
Jonsson came up with another save right after that, and the Mocs dodged a bullet when a header by Whitsett sailed wide on the ensuing corner kick.
Florida Southern was able to equalize in the 67th minute when Haupt and Givi Kokaia set up a goal by Dandanell. Haupt got the first assist by sending the ball to center for Kokaia, who in turn knocked it forward for Dandanell. His shot from inside the six-yard box landed in the net to put the hosts on the board.
The Lions shut down the Moccasins after that, however, and eventually earned their first road win of the season.
Saint Leo returns to the home pitch for another Sunshine State Conference match against Barry University on Saturday night. The Senior Night match will kick off at 7:00 p.m.