FORT LAUDERDALE — The Gulf Coast boys soccer team needed double overtime in two straight playoff games to grind its way into Friday's state semifinal.
In the biggest game in the program history, the Sharks didn't even need all of regulation.
With two minutes left in Friday's Class 4A semifinal against Fort Lauderdale, the Sharks starting goalkeeper was on the bench, and the team's seven seniors already were celebrating. The game had been decided long before as Gulf Coast won 6-1 to earn a spot in the state finals.
"The game plan was to come out strong early and put them away as fast as we could," Sharks senior Clay Curvin said. "We had a little streak here where we've been having trouble scoring. Now we're back on track to where we used to be."
Gulf Coast (18-3-3) now has a shot at becoming the first Collier County soccer team, boys or girls, to win a state championship. In 1995, the Naples High boys and Barron Collier girls both played for state titles, and both lost.
The Sharks play Lutz-Steinbrenner at 1:05 p.m. in the 4A championship game Feb. 16 at Melbourne High School.
After failing to score in almost 200 minutes of play the past two games, the Sharks got going early against Fort Lauderdale (18-8-1).
Carlos Paz's goal less than five minutes into the game gave Gulf Coast an early lead. The Flying L's tied the game 20 minutes later on a goal by Ralph Joseph, but the Sharks finished the first half with a flourish.
Sylvester Szczesniewicz scored on a header off a pinpointed throw-in from Curvin with 10 minutes to go before halftime. Four minutes later, Curvin scored from 15 yards out after getting past his defender with a crisp one-on-one move.
The first-half explosion was relief for the Sharks' offense. Gulf Coast's only goals in the regional semifinals came on penalty kicks, and won in Tuesday's regional championship after Seminole had two own goals.
"We had a mindset to be offense and attack from the start," said Szczesniewicz, who will sign with North Florida on Monday. "We pressed them until they broke, and they did."
Gulf Coast scored three more times in the second half — one on an own goal and another on Szczesniewicz's direct kick with seven minutes to play. Ian Tobal added the exclamation point with a minute left.
Fort Lauderdale came out of halftime as the aggressor. The Flying L's pressured the Sharks, who have allowed just 16 goals all season, but couldn't break through the Gulf Coast defense.
Neither Paz nor Tobal had scored a goal all season. It was that kind of game for the Sharks.
"I don't think you ever expect to win like this," Gulf Coast fifth-year coach Alan Scott said. "We know how good of a team we are, but Fort Lauderdale was here for a reason. This was a surprise, but it's a testament to how hard these boys work."
Despite trailing by two goals, the Flying L's never gave up. In last week's regional semifinals, Fort Lauderdale trailed 3-1 with less than two minutes left before winning in overtime.
Like Gulf Coast, Friday's state semifinal was a first for Fort Lauderdale. Last season the Flying L's won their first district championship in the program's 33 years, and this season was their first playoff victory.
The Sharks effectively limited a Fort Lauderdale attack that scored eight goals in its first three playoff games. For Gulf Coast, it was the most goals the team has scored in a state playoff game.