Saint Andrew’s Cages the Plant Panthers 13-8

There’s such a great feel to a new intersectional matchup of Top 5 teams. Plant taking the trip to Boca to play under the Friday Night Lights to take on the reigning 1A titlists in a game that, if memory serves, has not happened before.

I had this circled the minute the schedules came out. Plant made a Final Four appearance last year in 2A. A program that has grown even while having to contend with the restrictive schedule requirements in their area. Last year they traveled to Ponte Vedra to dip their toes into the deep end and this year they are diving right in, with PV at home today, and last night’s trip to SA, with a road trip coming up to the team that eliminated them last year, 2A champ Jupiter. If only their area administrators would take a chapter from Gainesville and loosen the reins more. Last year they played 4 district regular season games and gave up a TOTAL of 9 goals, then won the District with scores of 23-1 and 19-6. Those 4 regular season games, while great for the bench to get their playing time, do nothing for preparing for the Final Four.

Wake up administrators . . . a state title for your area does more for the sport there than playing those games.

It was a toss-up last year over whether SA or Jupiter was the best team in the state, but after Jupiter was taken down by Benjamin yesterday, it’s up to the rest of the state to prove they are #1 right now, because after last night’s game there’s no doubt in my mind for now. As I’m writing this, Plant rebounded with a gutty 9-8 win at home over Ponte Vedra, so now I’ll be looking to March 24th when the Scots head down I-95 to St. Thomas for validation. Not that they can’t be challenged until then, with Jupiter, Pine Crest, SJP and Oxbridge in-state (never mind Dallas Jesuit and Boys’ Latin too!) before that, but the proof is now on their opposition to prove their mettle.

A nice Plant contingent made the trip over, as you would think. They are active online and appreciative of their program. And fun to talk to, which I spent time doing. It’s been my experience that the most interest shown by a school’s supporters is that period when they are just joining the top echelon. Keep it up!

When you look at this matchup going in you think of Plant’s Turner Ashby and Ryker Demarest with an excellent supporting cast. Plant lost Wyatt Knust, the Cornell freshman, and Zach Antoniou, now at Fairfield, to graduation. Two very important pieces. But opportunity also offers hope, and Plant’s new goalie Michael Busweiler showed well last night. Great size plus athleticism. They returned almost all their offense from last year. Anthony Long, Jonathan Kerr, Hyatt Criser, Hayden Stoltzfuss, et al . . . to compliment Ashby and his 85G/59A . . . plus an experienced FOGO in Rogan Kane.

Saint Andrew’s returned less offense, as Anthony Borodiak, Tristan Moss and Will Adams moved on, as did poles Corey Frydman and Timmy Martin. Last year’s team played stifling defense and a patient offense, yielding only 20 goals in their 6 postseason games. Which makes last night’s performance by the Scots impressive and stomach-turning to upcoming opponents; you lose two starting poles and still are not allowing goals. Plant managed 8 last night; that would have been the most last season. The Panthers scored 418 goals in 23 games last year.

But returning for SA was a high-end threesome of goalie Gunnar Schwarz, LSM Sean Jordan and attackman Jack Schulte, and they put on a show last night. There’s also a very smart supporting cast with JoJo Pores, Moses Perry and a bunch of long poles to fill out the starting lineup and allow a few extra options on offense.

Now, let me note that Plant probably played better offense, even with their turnovers and shooting issues, than pretty much anyone else has against SA these last years. They got inside and had looks. Their defense struggled in settled situations, but Busweiler kept them in it early. SA committed 19 turnovers, which usually took them 2 games last year, and the Plant defense caused their share. This is a game, just like so many of SA’s games I see, where you say “if only we protected the ball better and finished better . . .”. But somehow SA just keeps producing these results, and it’s not a fluke.

There’s a wonderful, quirky movie called ‘The Damned United’, with Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen) playing the famed English soccer manager Brian Clough, and it focuses on his only failure as a manager, at Leeds United in the 70’s. There’s a scene where he builds a winner at Derby County (in case you’re wondering why I’m going here, I lived and worked in England for 18 months in the early 90’s and got familiar with the area and story this movie takes place and tells, having spent time in both Leeds and Nottingham, where Clough found his biggest success) by designing an attack thinking of the spear from the middle defender to the midfield play and up to the striker up top, in a direct play style. I saw that philosophy out of the Scots last night.

As amazing as it sounds, it took until last night for me to fully appreciate how great an all-around talent Sean Jordan is. Part of that is that I haven’t covered a lot of SA games the last few years (maybe one in the shortened 2020 season and 2 last year) but last night I saw what he means as being the link between Schwarz and Schulze, and how SA takes advantage of transition when it’s there, while grinding down the defense when it’s not.

Many times last night Jordan would release from his LSM position as the shot was IN THE AIR, trusting SA goalie Schwarz to make the save. It gave Jordan an option to pick which part of the field to dash to for the outlet pass, and when the pass came, he would initiate the old 4 on 3 break, the one that every high school practices religiously, and that allowed him to pressure the defenders into making quick decisions. The three attackmen know how to move into space, and so many times the ball hits the back of the net, whether from a clear look inside or Jordan’s own shot when he’s not slid to. Combine that with his faceoff wing play and defending prowess and it’s not hard to see why he’s heading to a D1 team next year as a 5-star IL ranked recruit.

Then you have to deal with SA’s motion offense when it’s a settled situation. They are masters at taking advantage of a small window when a defender gets caught ball-watching. Right of the goal at GLE to the cutter down the middle is like watching Brady to Edelman (sorry Dolphin fans). The offense is patient, handles the ball well, and uses spacing to set the backdoor cuts up. When I was talking to Plant fans in the stands, I mentioned how hard it is to prepare for this offense when you don’t play it every year. It’s pretty unique (last year’s Jupiter offense had similar properties) and frustrating to defend. You do everything right for 90 seconds and in a flash the ball is in your net.

I would say Plant grew up very quickly on Friday and when they study the game film, they will see what that extra 2% means between winning and losing these games. Star players show their mettle in how they recover from a tough night, not how they play the non-competitive games, and Saturday’s result showed a lot. Turner Ashby is the real deal; on Friday he learned what a golfer who overswings feels. Ryker Demarest learned that incredible talent still needs 100% intensity and I have no doubt he will thrive. The Plant supporting cast is in place; six goal scorers and nine point producers against a heck of a defense. Right now, Class 2A is wide open and the Panthers have a great shot at winning it all. If they do so, they will probably look back and be thankful for this weekend’s two games as the time they understood what it really takes to win it all.

But right now, Class 1A is not wide open . . . two weeks into the season and we’re all seeing an outstanding start to the year . . . if you’re not getting out to games this season you will regret it.

Schulte opened the scoring for SA at 8:07 as he took the Kurt Schwarz behind right feed on the crease for the one-timer. Just 14 seconds later Plant responded as Graham Gatteke took a turnover down the field and found Ashby on the left wing for the step-down low right. Plant took their only lead of the game with 1:35 to go as Ashby dodged from top left to the middle for the laser to the top left, but SA got it back with 41 seconds left as Schulte found Cole Hofbauer from behind on low left for the high, short side shot and we were 2-2 after the first.

The second quarter was all SA as G. Schwarz saved all five Plant shots and SA got inside, giving Busweiler little chance. K. Schwarz took the JoJo Pores feed from left GLE as he cut to the goal for a left hand top right finish at 10:55. Less than a minute later it was Caleb Fox taking a low left skip pass from Schulte on right wing for the left hand finish. Schulte face dodged from behind right at 8:55 for 5-2. An EMO was converted at 6:50 as the Scots wheeled the ball left and Pores found Schulte on the right crease and at 6:09 the burst was complete as Hofbauer found Eric Steifel cutting from low left to the front for the 7-2 lead at halftime.

At 9:49 of the 3rd, the lead went to 8-2 as Moses Perry went right alley and hit the low left corner. Plant finally broke their drought at 9:04 as Jonathan Kerr found Anthony Longo from behind right for the step down left hand low shot and 8-3. SA responded quickly 37 seconds later as Pores fed Hofbauer on the crease from behind right for the inside finish and then Plant climbed back to 9-4 as Hayden Stolzfoos hit Eastin Willett in the middle from up top for a top right bullet. Jordan found Pores on low left for 10-4 and Perry closed out the third with another right wing dash to the cage for 11-4 after 3.

The Panthers came out strong to start the fourth, with two goals in 11 seconds to make it 11-6. Long pole Nate Thomas worked a nice give and go with Longo on the right wing for the Thomas finish and Jack Boyer found Matthew Sayer on the left wing for the step down low right, but that’s as close as they got. Connor Hofbauer from Schulte and Patrick Walrath feeding Schulte (4G/3A) in two minutes pushed it back to 13-6 and Plant closed it out with late goals from Kerr and Willett to make the final 13-8

If there is one downside to the two-class system it’s that we can’t get a re-match of this in a Final Four. Maybe the FHSAA might take a look at supporting a charity event of the 2 Class champions on both sides playing a doubleheader for a good cause down the line . . .

Team Statistics

Faceoffs: SA 14-12

Shots: SA 35-32

Shots on Goal: 25-18

Turnovers: Plant 20-19

Penalties: SA 3-1

Individual Statistics

SA

Jack Schulte 4G/3A

Cole Hofbauer 2G/1a

Moses Perry 2G

JoJo Pores 1G/3A

Kurt Schwarz 1G/1A

Caleb Fox, Eric Steifel and Connor Hofbauer with 1G each

Patrick Walrath and Sean Jordan with 1A each

Gunnar Schwarz and Ryan Kaplan (4th Q) combined for 10 saves

Plant

Turner Ashby and Eastin Willett with 2G each

Jonathan Kerr 1G/2A

Anthony Longo 1G/1A

Matthew Sayer and Nate Thomas with 1G each

Graham Gattake, Hayden Stolzfoos and Jack Boyer with 1A each

Michael Busweiler with 12 saves

Coach Francis, good luck with your recovery!

Thanks to Coach Seaman and Coach Francis for talking to me before and after the game.