MIDDLETOWN, N.Y.— With the clock ticking away, the Somers varsity boys’ soccer team was just minutes from having to share the Class A state title with Section 6’s Grand Island.
Jonathan Riina and the Tuskers weren’t about to let that happen.
The sophomore split a pair of defenders, and tucked the ball past a charging Grand Island goalie with just 3:11 on the clock in the second overtime to deliver Somers a 2-1 win and its first state title in the history of the boys’ soccer program on Sunday, Nov. 13 at Middletown High School.
“This is the best feeling in the world. I feel like I’m dreaming — I want someone to punch me,” Somers’ first-year coach Brian Lanzetta said. “This is insane and it’s all for the kids. These guys put the work in. If I could get them to believe and understand what they have to do, they can achieve and do anything they want. That’s been my goal and my philosophy since I started.”
Riina said he saw an opening and went for it.
“I had a last second adrenaline rush,” Riina said. “I saw the gap and I took it and I put it in. It feels amazing.”
The furthest the Tuskers had gone in the state playoffs in the past was the state final back in 1993.
“He just slipped it across and I didn’t realize it was going in at first,” senior Graham Roediger said. “It went in the net and I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Did we actually just win a state title?’ There’s just nothing better.”
Before overtime, Lanzetta delivered a direct message to the team.
“He said, ‘You guys have worked so hard to get here and you deserve this more than anyone,’” Riina said. “It feels good to end like this. We didn’t want to end as co-champions. We’ll take it for ourselves.”
After a scoreless first half, Grand Island struck five minutes into the second half to gain a 1-0 lead.
The Tuskers didn’t take long to respond.
Junior Jake Faigle dribbled to the far-right corner and sent in a perfect cross to a sprinting Roediger, who headed the ball into the back of the net with 30:54 remaining to tie the game at 1-1.
“Jake crossed it across the box and the goalie fell and the ball was right across the line,” said Roediger, a senior. “And I just finished it off with my head. It was a good feeling. Getting out of the goal and seeing everyone celebrate that we just tied the game in the state final, there are just no words to describe it.”
Lanzetta said the team works on a drill in practice which simulates a situation where they allow a goal.
“When you give up a goal, the next five to seven minutes, the [opponent] is most vulnerable because they play more relaxed,” he said. “But if you go right back at them, you can make something happen and that’s been our philosophy and it showed.”
Senior defender Brendan Blanch was named MVP for a Tusker team which has been led by a physical defense all season.
Junior Alex Piazza played the role of hero with seconds left in the first overtime, stopping a Garrett Robinson shot that got past senior goalie Kenny Kurtz.
“I love that man,” Kurtz said of Piazza. “He saved me and I was just like, ‘There’s got to only be a few seconds left this in overtime. It’s going to be either game over (or double overtime).’ Thank God he was there because we were done if he wasn’t.
“I didn’t want to be co-state champs. I knew it was going to go one way or the other and thankfully it went our way.”
Somers (20-2-2) was knocking on the door all game and had the better of the possession battle against the Vikings.
“Being a state championship game, you’ve got to bring everything you have to the table,” Roediger said. “There’s no going back. This is the last game of the season no matter what. Being able to come out on top is just the best feeling ever.”
Senior captain Jack Maher blasted a shot on a corner just minutes into the second half. Minutes later, Maher had another opportunity and headed the ball into the net after a free kick but he was called offside.
With 27 minutes left, Maher sent in a pass to sophomore Lucas Fecci, but the Grand Island keeper made a kick save. Riina fired a straight-on laser seven minutes later.
Somers’ defense limited Grand Island’s opportunities throughout the championship game.
“From the beginning of the year, we’ve said that the defense holds us together,” Riina said. “They’re the glue to our team, so without them we wouldn’t be here.”
The Tuskers had a double dose of overtime games at the state final four.
Maher unleashed a blast into the left side of the net just three minutes into overtime to hand Somers a 1-0 win over defending state champion Amityville of Long Island a day earlier at Middletown High School.
Fecci set-up Maher for the game-winning golden goal.
Kurtz came through in net time after time, making a big diving save in the first half to keep the game scoreless.
The Tuskers lose a number of key players to graduation, particularly on defense. But the bright side is they return a slew of starters and critical contributors, especially on the offensive end of the field.
“The first day of preseason, we knew [the underclassmen] were going to make a big impact on this team,” Roediger said. “Lucas Fecci, Jon Riina, Alex Piazza, Drew Lasher and plenty of other kids. They’re fantastic, worked hard and really want the best for the team.”
It’s a senior class and team that won’t soon be forgotten by the community.
“This senior group is fantastic,” Roediger said. “We’re so tight. Everyone on this team has a really good family concept. To come out and win a state title and go out the way we all wanted to, there’s just nothing better.”
“There’s 12 [seniors] and four or five of them are a very big part of this team,” Lanzetta said. ”They’ve grown up together since they were kids. The rest of the guys that know their role, they support and pick them up like no other. I’ve never seen a group of kids be so nice and so positive to each other.”
The team gives all the credit to Lanzetta, who is a Somers alum and played soccer for the Tuskers.
“Coach Lanzetta is the man,” Roediger said. “He’s really brought us together and developed us as a team. Maybe a couple of these kids aren’t soccer players — including myself — but we’re really good athletes. He formed us to be a state title contending team and then come out here and win it.”
Lanzetta was a ball boy for the Drew Strauss coached Somers teams in the 1990s.
“It was guys like (Drew) Strauss that made me love soccer,” Lanzetta said. “This town has always been a soccer town. We’re going to continue to grow and get better, and win more than one (state title). We have one and now we’ve got to go for two.”