By Bruce Robins, Sun Correspondent
PUNTA GORDA – Senior Noah Couto scored a hat trick to lead Port Charlotte High past Charlotte High, 4-1, in a non-district boys soccer matchup Monday night.
The game between the county rivals was scoreless through the first 30 minutes before Couto struck twice inside of a minute to finally give the Pirates some momentum and a 2-0 lead.
“It was difficult. Our heads were down and we were playing slow and flat-footed,” Couto said. “But once we get a little bit of life, we’re unstoppable.”
Couto had just missed the net with a shot in the 29th minute, but moments later, Tarpon goalkeeper Jason Gaudemer came out to challenge Couto and the Pirate striker chipped the ball over the fallen goalie and into a wide open net for the game’s first score.
Seconds later, Couto connected and again on a long shot from the left side that Gaudemer touched but couldn’t stop. “He was off his line, so I was like why not?” Couto said. “I’ve only done it like once or twice before but I figured why not?”
Port Charlotte took the 2-0 lead into halftime, but four minutes into the second half, Charlotte’s Sam Asperilla put a shot past Pirate goalie Hunter Cole to cut the deficit to 2-1.
“At 2-1 it did seem likely that we believed in it,” Charlotte coach Alex Lebeau said. “The first two goals were like an early punch in the throat so we were shocked back and it took us awhile to build the momentum back. But it wasn’t too long after it was 2-1 that they went up 3-1 and we were just deflated. We were like a balloon that never got any air in it.”
Two minutes later, Couto got his third goal with an assist from Jeremiah Ruth and the Pirates had some breathing room again.
“Definitely some self confidence in that,” Couto said. “I was starting to get a little bit scared. The third one kind of knocked their sails down.”
The Tarpons had a couple of shots go just over the crossbar as they attempted to cut into the deficit, and Joel Requena completed the scoring with five minutes to go as he got the ball in front, turned, and fired the ball into the left corner of the net.
“The players look forward to this rivalry, but I just wanted to see them play and they played well tonight,” Port Charlotte coach Joe Roca said. “They performed very well in the second half. We had that talk, you’ve got to move the ball, you’ve got to pass the ball and make something happen and they did. The first thirty minutes were really frustrating for me just watching, because I know we’re a lot better than that.”
Although it wasn’t a district game, Lebeau said he considers it the most important game of the season.
“This is my number one game on the schedule for the season regardless of districts or records or standings or anything,” Lebeau said. “We both know we start 0-0 when we play this game and its a home and away record for the year. So we’re going to have get them at their house.”
“We had our chances to be in the game and make it more of a spectacle for our fans, but we didn’t take those chances. But I’d never say the ‘what-if’ moments ,would have been enough to win us the game. Our big players didn’t shine as much as they could have and we need a lot of defensive work. We’re leaky like Swiss cheese.”
“It’s an important game to me,” Couto said. “It’s my senior year so I’ve got to give it to them.”
The Pirates improved to 10-2-1 on the season while Charlotte falls to 2-9.