COLONIE – In a scoreless duel with Bethlehem and the game up for grabs, Shenendehowa scoring ace Jaylin Sykes got kicked in the leg and dropped to the ground in pain with 3:18 left in regulation.
He didn’t return until the first overtime period, then made his presence felt, sending a perfect feed from fellow senior forward Reggie Durden into the net with 9:38 left to propel the Plainsmen to a 1-0 victory in the Section II Class AA boys’ soccer championship game Monday night at Colonie High School.
It was the 21st sectional championship for the second-seeded Plainsmen, who improve to 15-3-1. They host the Section III champion Saturday back here in regional play. Bethlehem, seeded fourth, finishes at 13-6-1.
“This is the best feeling, obviously,” said Sykes, who collected his team-best 17th goal of the season. “When I scored the goal, I didn’t realize what happened. Then, when I finally realized it was a goal, I started celebrating. When I go to sleep at night, I have dreams like this over and over again. My dream finally came true.”
Sykes said the Plainsmen, despite a slow start this season, were focused on winning a title since August. “We knew this was a special team since the first day, and each day of practice we got better and better. We’ve been talking about winning the title since Day 1,” Sykes added.
Shenendehowa dominated play offensively for the entire first half but came up empty time after time. Sykes had two solid scoring opportunities in the first two minutes.
“I thought we were going to get a goal in the beginning, but it wasn’t happening,” Sykes said. “A little unlucky, I guess. I’m just happy to get that goal.”
Sykes almost wasn’t around for the game-winner, however, as he appeared to suffer a serious injury at the end of regulation.
“When I first went down, I thought I had a cramp,” Sykes noted. “But then coach came out, and we thought maybe that I hyper-extended my leg. They wanted me to stretch it out, and they used a roller. I felt like I was at least 95 percent, and I wanted to get back in the game.”
Sykes and Durden have been a comfortable and successful scoring tandem all season, so it was no surprise that Durden set up Sykes for the game-winner.
“Reggie got the ball to me just right. He’s always good at playing it perfectly to me,” Sykes said.
“It was just a reaction pass,” Durden said. “That was repetition over practice. Coach Bain makes us run it 20 to 30 times every day. That pass was in my blood, and Jaylin knows exactly where to go when I get the ball.”
Shenendehowa head coach Jonathan Bain said his team was fortunate to finally break through with a goal after so many frustrating opportunities.
“I wasn’t sure when we were going to get another chance,” he said. “There was a little bit of luck there. It’s hard when you lose in sudden death. Soccer can be that way. But I was so excited that in the overtime, they were playing in front of me again, so I could coach the guys. Bethlehem was not going to let us come up the middle to score. We had to go wide, and you need a perfect service in the box. It’s not easy to score from the wing,” he said.
“On that last play, it was Jaylin’s extra effort to get back in front and Reggie made that perfect pass. He waited for just the right time.”
Besides the heroics of Sykes and Durden, Bain was pleased with his defense that limited the Eagles to precious few shots on goal.
“The midfield played so well defensively, They were all over the ball,” Bain said. “We stayed compact, and our outside players did an outstanding job of putting pressure on the ball. Our back line also elevated their level of play so much.
“I told them that I was giving them tonight to celebrate, and tomorrow it’s back to work to get ready for the regionals,” Bain said.
“This is why I coach. I do it for them – to see them raise the plaque after all the work they’ve done on and off the field.”
Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].com. or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.