Even with so many new faces in key roles, the East Syracuse-Minoa boys soccer team stood poised to claim the Section III Class A championship Monday night at Chittenango High School -- but it fell just short.
Despite a valiant comeback effort in the second half, the Spartans took a 2-1 defeat to Fulton, as the Red Raiders claimed its first sectional title since a run to the state co-championshp in 2005.
It helped Fulton that ESM was not at full strength. Two starters, Len Kerznowski and Mike Cummings, were out of the lineup due to suspensions induced by an altercation at the end of its semifinal win over Whitesboro.
Still, the Spartans sought payback for a pair of one-goal defeats to Fulton in the regular season. Judging by the first half, though, it didn't look like it would even reach that point.
The Red Raiders controlled the early flow of play, constantly challenging ESM's defense and forcing freshman goalkeeper Casey Sullivan to make some tough stop.
But there was nothing Sullivan could do in the 27th minute as Fulton's Trevor Littler hit a strong header into the net off a throw-in from Marshall Cooper. Then, with 1:07 in the half, Richie Weber (whose overtime goal beat Jamesville-DeWitt in the semifinals) converted off Jake West's corner kick.
Down 2-0 at the break, looking for anything to get itself sparked, ESM found it exactly three minutes into the second half when Fulton goalie Trevor Trovato could not handle Jimmy Chayka's free kick, allowing Jeff Koch to poke home the rebound.
ESM played better defense in the second half, getting a shutout from Jeff Cwirko as he replaced Sullivan in the net. And it got chances to tie the game, the best ones coming when Koch broke free in the 54th minute, only to see the ball kicked away, and when Arnes Mesic headed a corner kick right into Trovato's hands with 12 minutes left.