FLEMING ISLAND – Fleming Island High senior forward Avery Coussens scored three goals, including the game-winner, as Fleming Island finished a week of redemption with a 4-2 victory over Allen D. Nease in the District 4-4A championship game Fri., Feb. 1.
The Golden Eagles avenged a 2018 district semifinal loss to Oakleaf with a 3-1 victory over the Knights on Wednesday, and beat Nease for the first time this season after playing the Panthers to a 2-2 tie on December 17 and losing to their Ponte Vedra rival on penalty kicks in the St. John’s River Athletic Conference final on January 18. Fleming Island (12-4-4) will host Englewood High (7-5-1) in the region quarterfinals on Wed., Feb. 6. Nease (13-3-2) travels to Fletcher (14-2-4, 4A runnerup in 2018). In the opposite brackets, Niceville (23-1-2, region finalist in 2018) hosts Chiles (11-6-2) and Leon (22-0-1) hosts Navarre (16-5-2).
In district 4-3A, Ridgeview lost 3-0 to Ponte Vedra. Ridgeview (7-8-0), the defending champion and region finalist in 2018, will travel to Stanton Prep (14-7-4). Ponte Vedra (10-3-2) will host Paxon (10-3-0). In the other brackets, Arnold (15-2-0, state
semifinalist in 2018) will host Gulf Breeze (10-12-3) and West Florida (14-5-3) will host Mosley (9-6-0).
In district 2-1A, St. Johns Country Day School (11-2-1) defeated Christ’s Church Academy 3-1 and will host St. John Paul II (12-3-2) in a region semifinal. Christ’s Church (10-3-1) will travel to Tallahassee Maclay (13-3-0, 1A runnerup in 2018).
In their win over Nease, Coussens put the Golden Eagles ahead 2-0 with a first half penalty kick, broke a 2-2 tie with a header with 10:25 remaining, and put the game on ice with on a breakaway at the 4:09 mark. A full-time starter for the first time this season, Coussens had never before scored more than two goals in a game.
“It feels amazing, especially in a district final,” said Coussens after the game. “Getting that [district championship] banner for my teammates is awesome.”
The senior striker used a tactical approach on his penalty kick, doing the opposite of what he had done on his penalty kick in the conference final.
“Last time, I shot to the right,” explained Coussens. “I thought he [Nease goaltender Chris Kinsey] would expect me to go right again, so I shot left.”
Sure enough, Kinsey dived to his left as Coussens struck the ball. Though the shot never got in the air and did not have a lot of pace, it trickled across the left side of the goal line into the net.
“I definitely mishit it, to be honest,” Coussens said with a smile. “But it went in, and that’s all that matters.”
Fleming Island coach Michael Green was concerned that the Golden Eagles had been too fired up for their game against Oakleaf on Wednesday to get back up for Friday’s championship game. Indeed, Nease controlled possession for 15 of the first 18 minutes. Only an incredible save by defender Landon Opp prevented the Panthers from taking an early lead. Panthers left wing Oscar Naranjo launched a drive from the left side of the box that Fleming Island goalie Lewis Wright was barely able to deflect. The ball ricocheted off of the right post, and when Nease’s Chase Stuetzel booted the rebound toward the goal, all Wright could do was watch. Opp, crossing from the right side of the goal, lunged to his left and headed the ball sideways just as it was about to cross the line.
The near miss awakened the Golden Eagles, who got their first shot on goal from Trey Weeks at the 21:35 mark of the first half and took the lead 20 seconds later when team captain Connor Davis blasted a header past Kinsey off of a corner kick from Weeks. Weeks’ boot eluded leaping header attempts by Fleming Island’s Trystan Ayers and two Panthers defenders, floating down to Davis at the far end of the goal. Davis had initially lost the ball in the stadium lights, but saw it in time to catch it between his head and his shoulder and redirect it into the net.
“I got right in a gap,” said Davis. “It was a perfect ball, and I ran straight through it.”
Davis, Fleming Island’s leading scorer, typically does not get involved in corner kick action due to prior concussions, but was so motivated to win this game that he put himself in the box for Weeks’ kick.
Coussens’ penalty kick gave the Golden Eagles a 2-0 lead at the intermission, but the Panthers, who fall to 13-3-2, got on the scoreboard on a penalty kick by Savio Palushi fifteen minutes into the second half. Wright guessed correctly on the side of the goal Palushi would aim for, but could not prevent the high drive from finding the corner of the goal.
With 10:45 remaining, Nease cashed in on a Golden Eagles’ foul when midfielder Vincent Fleming gained possession of a bouncing ball in the box after the free kick and knocked it past Wright, whose view was obstructed by several other players.
After Fleming’s tying goal, Coussens and Weeks needed just 20 seconds to regain the momentum for the Golden Eagles. Weeks took the restart kick down the right side, outrunning the Nease defense to set up a passing angle. The junior wing delivered a centering pass to Coussens on the left side. With Kinsey on the right side of the goal to prevent Weeks from shooting, Coussens delivered a strong header into the open net.
“I saw my teammate driving toward the post,” said Coussens. “I went to the back post just in case, saw him put it up, and headed it down. It was a perfect ball.”
Six minutes later, Fleming fullback Matthew Reiswig delivered a free kick from his own end deep into the Panthers’ side of the field. Coussens gained possession, dribbled past Nease defenders Jack McCaffrey and Jack Dearie, and tapped the ball into the left side of the goal just before an onrushing Kinsey could smother it. The Golden Eagles played conservatively in the final four minutes, protecting their lead.
Fleming improves to 14-4-4, and Green likes the way the Golden Eagles’ nine seniors are taking control.
“The senior mentality is a big deal,” he said. “They need to make their own path, and they are starting to do that.”
Wright finished with seven saves