DELAND — Carl Hawver’s right-footed volley was the perfect capper, a poetic nod to the soccer gods along for the ride of Niceville’s 25-0-2 season.
The senior watched Logan Harrelson’s bicycle kick come up empty, located the ball just beyond the right side of the box and netted a perfect volley inside the left post in double overtime to end Saturday’s 7-3 win over South Broward in the 6A state title.
It was inconsequential. It was glorious. It was icing on the cake of a campaign that will forever be remembered as one of the most successful seasons of prep soccer history — not just Niceville, not just Florida … the nation.
"It felt amazing," Hawver said. "It’s my last game as a senior and obviously it felt great to help out my team, but that feeling of scoring the last goal in the last game of a state title run, it’s something I’ll cherish forever."
At one point in the four-goal win, South Broward’s Nico Robles — the junior notching goals seven and eight in the loss — was given a yellow card for flopping in the box to try to draw a penalty kick. As he trotted off the field to be subbed out, a teammate yelled, "It doesn’t work here, bro. Stop!"
Robles, of course, can be forgiven. After all, nothing worked against Niceville all season.
Buchholz tried to stack the final third with 11 defenders in the region quarterfinals. Didn’t work.
Fletcher tried to beat Niceville on size and set pieces in the region semifinals. Didn’t work.
Leon tried to match Niceville’s physicality in the region championship. Didn’t work.
Mitchell tried to offset Niceville’s dominant midfield with balls over the top. Didn’t work.
And finally South Broward, already knocking off the state’s top-ranked team in Doral Academy 4-1 earlier in the region finals, tried to draw penalties and set pieces and contain Harrelson and Etan. Didn’t work.
As for the Eagles’ dominance en route too its first-ever state crown, it was multi-faceted.
Dominant defense? Niceville pitched 15 shutouts and allowed just .81 goals per game.
Prolific offense? Niceville’s seven goals pushed the Eagles over the century mark and a 3.8 goals-per-game mark, aided by 28 goals from Logan Harrelson and 26 goals by Liam Etan.
The hype? Niceville, featuring the toughest schedule in the Sunshine State according to MaxPreps, came in as the top-ranked program in Florida and second nationally.
The depth? Six Eagles had at least seven goals or more, seven Eagles had at least seven assists and eight Eagles had double-digit points.
The senior-leadership? Niceville has 10 players that’ll graduate winners.
The clutch genes? Niceville went 3-0 in penalty kick shootouts, survived two postseason overtimes and twice came back from a goal deficit Saturday.
"We never felt the pressure," said junior midfielder Cody Albert, whose corner kick assist to Etan in overtime led to the eventual game winner. "We knew if we played our game and kept the ball on the ground, no one could play with us."
Carson Hickok, a defender who’s harped on posting doughnuts all season, was still soaking in the most important doughnut off all: the loss column.
"This is crazy that we went the whole season without taking a loss," the junior said. "It’s just a testament to how hard this team worked, how hard our coaches worked and how we were able to adapt – I mean we trailed twice and came back both times and found a way to win."
Austin Paugh, a defender, said the Eagles simply never lost that confidence or swagger.
"There’s always that one game every season where you worry about just playing OK or not having it," the junior said. "But we just had that attitude, we had faith that every night was going to be our night.
"We did it. We finished unbeaten."