After fifty years of playing boys soccer, A.C. Flora has its first state championship.
Robert Weldon scored a hat trick in the second half, and the Falcons added goals from Tanner Reagle and Daniel McClam to win the Class 3A boys state championship with a 5-1 victory against St. James on Saturday afternoon at River Bluff High.
“I couldn’t be happier with this group of boys,” A.C. Flora coach Matt Barry said. “They deserve it. They had some big wins during the season, and I’m not surprised. I thought we were prepared. My assistant coaches did a great job getting a scouting report together, and we worked our butts off.”
A.C. Flora had played in one state championship match before Saturday – losing in 1980. Finally bringing a championship home meant a lot to the program, community and past players.
“It took us 35 years to get back,” said Barry, who has been coach for six years. “Flora is a flagship high school in the city of Columbia and has been around a long time. I’ve seen text messages and emails from people that I have no clue who they are giving us well wishes and when they graduated. It pushed us forward. You saw the stands and how this whole community supported us.”
The teams played a scoreless first half, and the best scoring opportunity came when St. James was whistled for a foul to give the Falcons a penalty kick from 12 yards – but it went wide right.
The Sharks (20-4-1) struck first in the second half with a goal from Tristen Fields in the 43rd minute, but it was all A.C. Flora (17-3-1) after that.
Fields might have helped ignite the rally. After scoring the goal, he ran along the A.C. Flora sideline and taunted the Falcons’ student section before celebrating with his teammates.
“Honestly, we were a little bit shaken up after that goal,” Weldon said. “It got us fired up. That’s exactly what we needed. We were playing soft and letting them come to us. We weren’t being aggressive, and we started getting on them.”
Barry said the reaction to the goal didn’t get his teams attention, but the deficit did.
“We woke up a little bit after we got a goal scored on us,” Barry said. “After that, they played the type of soccer I know they’re capable of playing.”
Reagle scored in the 44th minute on a rebound for the equalizer. Five minutes later, Daniel McClam dribbled the ball along the end line before making a swift pass to Weldon in front of the net for the go-ahead score in the 49th minute.
St. James coach Drew Pavy said it was difficult for his team to respond.
“They say most goals are scored after goals,” he said. “That was tough giving up one right after we scored, then things started going A.C. Flora’s way after that.”
Weldon, one of eight seniors on the roster, said the scoring frenzy relaxed the team and made them more focused.
“We had to figure things out,” Weldon said. “But we realized we’ve been playing with each other for so long, we didn’t even have to think about where we were going to pass it because we already knew. It became easy when we got the flow going, and it didn’t stop.”
Weldon added another goal on a kick from about 15 yards out before getting his his third in the 70th minute. McClam added the final goal in the 77th minute, and the Falcons spent the last few minutes on the sideline giving out congratulations.
“Daniel McClam made the first two goals so easy,” Weldon said. “He put them on a platter for me. We all work for each other. We got him one at the end. It was a full team effort. It’s an awesome feeling bringing a soccer championship to A.C. Flora.”
Goals: (ACF) Tanner Reagle 44’, Robert Weldon 49’, 54’, 70; Daniel McClam, 77’; (SJ) Tristen Fields 43’. Assists: (ACF) Parker Stokes (2), McClam (2), Weldon. Shots: ACF 14-8 SJ. Saves: (ACF) Jack Pondy 3; (SJ) Haywood Brandon 3.