There were a handful of reasons why Cape Coral felt it let the District 3A-13 boys soccer title game slip out of its hands on Friday against rival Mariner.
There was the pace of play, at times too direct and without thought. There was the passing, without consistency or inspiration. And then there was the finishing, nearly nonexistent for a team that averaged over three goals a game during the regular season.
But none of it held a cap to the big head-scratcher, the ingredient that led to the Seahawks demise during the team’s 2-1 double OT loss in penalty kicks to the Fightin’ Tritons.
That variable led to 55 combined fouls between both teams, one of the Cape Coral’s co-captains being handed his second yellow card with 15 minutes left and a general out-of-mind experience for most of the Seahawks.
It was careless emotion.
“I think it showed them a lesson within the game,” Seahawks head coach Paola Acosta said four days later at practice. “Maybe some of them weren’t ready to handle that pressure.”
Fortunately enough, Cape Coral (14-3-4) isn’t out of the postseason just yet. The Seahawks, who won the 3A state championship in 2011 — Acosta was a part of that team as a player — head into the 3A Region-4 quarterfinals against District 3A-14 champion Immokalee (16-2-3), a physical team with just as much fight as Mariner.
“I’m telling the boys to keep possession in this game, because those are the types of teams we don’t want to be having to body against,” Acosta said. “They have the advantage there. If we keep possession and make them chase, I think we’ll control the rhythm of the game, which I think was our problem Friday. “
It wasn’t hard to piece together why the game, which came on the heels of a 1-1 tie in November, mattered so much to both teams. It was the biggest match of the season, practically speaking, but it was also the largest crowd Acosta had ever seen, even bigger, he said, of any attendance he saw in 2011.
Mariner students covered the top right side of the bleachers and blew into plastic air horns while they chanted, “I believe that we will win.” Cape Coral supporters sat in throngs closer to the field and countered with chants of their own, none as confident as their opposition.
Emotion won out, which wasn’t new for Cape Coral. The Seahawks had played with their hearts on their sleeves before.
“That’s been with us since our freshman year,” junior co-captain Camilo Avendano said. “It’s been our thing.”
Those memories came haunting back Friday and eventually sat beside each Cape Coral player following the quick exit off the field.
“Losing to Mariner is always hard on us,” senior Tyler Hopping said, “but it always makes us stronger afterwards.”
It’s something, though, that the Seahawks have been working on. After Acosta met with the team to reflect, he also made sure to discuss what he felt they needed to do to respond against Immokalee.
“I think we don’t want as many fouls,” Acosta said, “and avoid any situations where we go down to 10 or nine players.”
It was also important for Acosta to speak with junior Jon Jimenez, who was tossed from the game in the second half following his second yellow, to reiterate how important he would be to the club’s chances going forward. The forward, a co-captain with Avendano, was second on the team with nine goals and six assists.
“Sometimes his passion blinds him,” Acosta said, “But we know and I know he’s trying to work on it.”
Jimenez, like the rest of his teammates, is trying to leave emotion at the door when the Seahawks meet Immokalee on Thursday for a chance to reach the region semifinals.
“I think going forward,” Acosta said, “I think they’re going to be ready.”
Region 4A-3 quarterfinal: Fort Myers at Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, 7 p.m.
Region 3A-4 quarterfinal: Golden Gate at Mariner, 7 p.m.; Cape Coral at Immokalee, 7 p.m.
Region 2A-3 quarterfinal: Cardinal Mooney at LaBelle, 7 p.m.
Regoin A-2 quarterfinal: Evangelical Christian School at Bradenton Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.