Nov 16, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Winning a state championship in any high school sport is a memorable feat. But the Hamilton boys soccer team made sure its feat would be remembered for a long, long time to come.
Down by three goals to defending state champion Chazy with less than 20 minutes to play in Sunday’s state Class D final, the Emerald Knights made it all the way back, then pulled out a 4-3 victory when Dan Kraynak scored less than a minute into overtime.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Kraynak.
Despite the chilly wind, cold temperatures and winter motif, a full army of partisans poured into the National Hall of Fame complex in Oneonta, all of them waiting to see on Sunday afternoon if their heroes would win the second state championship in the program’s history.
Yet even the most die-hard of Emerald Knights fans had to wonder if the ultimate title was out of reach when Chazy, the defending state Class D champions from Section VII, zoomed to a 3-0 lead.
Hamilton had controlled the early stages of the game, but were unable to convert. That became a problem in the 25th minute, when Chazy’s Jason Baker launched a 30-yard shot past Will Keever into the net to give the Eagles a 1-0 edge.
A questionable free-kick call led to Andrew LaPierre scoring in the 34th minute, doubling the margin to 2-0 by halftime. And when a Hamilton player got caught with a handball inside the 18-yard box in the 56th minute, Stetson Fields converted the penalty kick, and it was 3-0.
At this point, said Hamilton head coach Brian Latella, he was not thinking about victory, but just the fact that his team had scored at least once in every game this season.
“We did not want to get shut out,” he said. “We knew we would get one.”
He would get a lot more.
Nate Steward, the first-team All-State selection, began the remarkable rally, drilling a 35-yard shot from the right side into the top of the net in the 63rd minute.
“I just prayed it would go in, and it worked,” said Steward.
Sensing increased energy, Latella brought sweeper Brandon Meeks forward, and his speed and ball-handling skills (combined with a wind advantage) gave Hamilton even more energy as it tore down the stretch.
With 8:05 left, amid a scramble in the middle, Matt Broedel sent a low shot past Chazy goalie Austin Saniter just inside the left post, making it 3-2. Everyone on Hamilton’s side now believed it could catch up.
So the Emerald Knights kept increasing the pressure. And with 2:44 to play, Steward’s long free kick from the left got deflected out to Broedel, who pushed it into the net to tie the game.
As if all this wasn’t enough, a collision with a teammate moments later forced Saniter out of the game. In fact, the injury was so bad that he had to leave in an ambulance, causing a 20-minute delay.
When the game resumed, and it went to sudden-death OT, it took less than a minute for Kraynak to take a long pass from Alex Thompson and take a shot from the point that found the net, setting off a scene of bedlam. Hamilton players, students and parents celebrated on the field as the Chazy players sat in a daze.
Reaching the title game required all kinds of hard work, plus some practical use of the team’s proximity to home.
On Friday night, Hamilton, like the 19 other teams that reached the state final four in five different classes, attended the championship banquet and stayed in an Oneonta hotel.
Well rested, the Emerald Knights came out on Saturday to face S.S. Seward, the Section IX representatives, and mostly leaned on its defense to overcome the windy conditions and record a 1-0 victory over the Spartans.
Both teams resolved to keep the ball low amid the gusts, but for much of the first half, that translated into a series of empty possessions where the attack would generate, but few shots would take place.
Then, in the 25th minute, Hamilton got its opportunity. Kraynard took a shot that Seward goalie Dmitri Moustakas deflected out. But the ball went right to Dan Meeks, and Meeks poured the rebound past Moustakas into the net.
Given the way the Emerald Knights’ defense was playing, that sure looked to be enough. Steward and Tyler White possessed the ball to keep it away from the Spartans’ forwards, while Thompson, Meeks, Josh Sorosky and Bobby Dick put up a wall in front of Will Keever, deflecting most chances away.
Only in the last stages of regulation did Seward come up with good chances. Brian McAteer, with seven minutes left, got in front and had a point-blank shot, but it went right into Keever’s hands. With two minutes left, McAteer again got open — and this time steered the shot wide.
Having won this game, the Hamilton players went back home to sleep in their own beds, avoiding the hyped-up atmosphere in Oneonta. When they returned on Sunday, they would make history in the most spectacular way possible.
“They just believed in themselves,” said Latella. “And they are going to have this memory forever.”