ALBANY — The sousaphone in the school band tooted away, while taking on water like a cistern in somebody’s garden.
Residents of the surrounding neighborhoods must’ve been wondering why fireworks were popping into the non-stop drizzle, at 8 o’clock on a Thursday night in early April.
The temperature was in the mid 40’s, and kids were sitting in wet grass eating ice cream.
Everything about Thursday’s men’s lacrosse game between UAlbany and Syracuse seemed like an act of defiance.
The ultimate refusal to capitulate to circumstances, history and the elements was offered up by the Great Danes themselves, when they got the upper hand early and held off the Orange 14-12.
It was clear this meant something extra to UAlbany, always the little brother to the program that plays in a 50,000-capacity dome and has won 11 NCAA tournaments since 1983.
The teams had played each other 19 times, but always at the Carrier Dome, and although UAlbany won two of those, this was different.
Former long-time Syracuse head coach John Desko, who retired last June, finally agreed to play a road game in Albany in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled it. Then it was finally happening on Thursday, but the weather chose not to cooperate.
No matter. A crowd of 3,688 — some of whom were Syracuse fans, but not many — busted out the dollar store plastic rain ponchos, and a team that has found victories hard to come by for much of this season decided it was the right time to pull off a signature win against one of the legendary programs in the sport.
You can understand why head coach Scott Marr and his assistant coaches couldn’t stop hugging each other after the final horn.
“It was a special night, having Syracuse come here, and our fans having a chance to see Syracuse play here in our backyard,” Marr said.
“Maybe it [weather] helped or hurt. It may have helped us in the game, and it hurt the crowd a little bit, but the energy from our fans . . . I don’t know, I’ve played in a lot of places. I’m really, really excited for what we have here as a community for lacrosse.”
“Phew. I’ve never been a part of something like that,” said UAlbany freshman midfielder Adam Thistlethwaite, who scored two goals. “That was a super-cool environment here at Casey. The fans were behind us the entire game.
“So many kids running around . . . I think the kids was the coolest part for me. All the kids running up and down the lawn, asking for balls, yelling. They’re on the ramp giving us high-fives afterwards, asking for autographs.”
Marr compared everything about the game to UAlbany’s home victory over another powerhouse, North Carolina, in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, including the weather.
The Syracuse game on Thursday had the extra element of festive celebration.
UAlbany had a rock band playing on a stage outside Casey Stadium before the game, and the Great Danes’ customary purple smoke cloud the players run through as they take the field was supplemented by a couple fireworks bursts.
The school put on a full fireworks show at halftime, adding light and smoke to a youth lacrosse game on the field.
Not the type of flourishes you see in any other non-conference game.
But this was Syracuse.
Gary Gait, who replaced Desko, was on the sideline, just in case you needed a reminder of what kind of success the program has enjoyed for decades.
“I would be remiss if I did not say thank you to John Desko for giving me the opportunity to play Syracuse in 2004,” Marr said. “When you’re starting out as a new program, to have the opportunity to play the best in the country, we played Johns Hopkins and Syracuse my first couple years. And that opportunity gave me an opportunity to recruit, gave us a chance to play big-time teams. I just really appreciate what he did for me and my program.”
The Orange have had struggles of their own this season, and fell to an uncharacteristic 4-6 overall record with the loss.
Nevertheless, the hugs among the UAlbany coaches showed how important this was to the program.
“I have over 100 texts right now, because we won,” Marr said. “They [coaches] all played for me, they understand what it takes to win here. When you go up against a Syracuse, or a North Carolina, or a Maryland, it’s really gratifying when you can turn the corner and beat them.”
So the weather spit down on the shivering crowd, but the Great Danes spit back at history.
After Syracuse’s first goal, a fan turned around and yelled “Yeah” with raised fists at some UAlbany fans . . . to be answered with a “Siddown.”
The Orange scored with 10.6 seconds left in the third quarter to get within 11-10 of UAlbany, and during the quarter break, the public address played Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder singing “Hey I, oh, I’m still alive” — loudly.
The Great Danes answered right back by scoring seven seconds into the fourth quarter.
It was just that kind of night.