TROY - As one of the most accomplished teams in high school sports, Yorktown isn't used to being the underdog. But the Cornhuskers are fitting into their new role quite nicely.
After ending Lakeland/Panas' 18-game winning streak in the sectional final, Yorktown defeated Niskayuna and its 10 college-bound lacrosse players 6-5 in a Class A regional final last night at Harkness Field, on the campus of RPI.
"With the season we had, with everyone counting us out, there's a lot of naysayers out there, and it pumps the kids up," Cornhuskers coach Dave Marr said. "They want to prove something, they want to continue the tradition."
Yorktown will play West Islip, the winner of last night's Long Island championship, tomorrow night at 8 at Hofstra. West Islip, the defending state champion, beat John Jay 13-1 in the semis last year.
The Cornhuskers (12-9) won despite not scoring for the final 22 minutes, and that wasn't even the most surprising statistic - Vermont-bound faceoff specialist Chris Hall won all 10 first-half faceoffs for Niskayuna, but Yorktown held a 5-3 halftime lead. The Cornhuskers scored the first four goals of the game, and Niskayuna (17-4) responded with three straight goals. With six seconds left in the first half, Yorktown junior Rocky Bonitatibus scored his third goal on a powerful side-arm shot, giving the Cornhuskers a two-goal lead.
"It feels unbelievable," Bonitatibus said. "We have this big sign at our school with past state champions, section champions, and I've never had a chance to have something up there. To get to the state semifinals is great."
Niskayuna never had the lead, but it got within one goal three times, including at 6-5 with 5:03 left. Then Colin Houlihan, who had two goals and an assist in the first half, won the ensuing faceoff against Hall.
"He was dominating me in the first half so I had to do something different," Houlihan said. "I knew I had to get the ball and help our team out."
Yorktown held the ball for the next four minutes before Niskayuna finally regained possession. The Silver Warriors had three shots in the final 45 seconds, but Steve Lefebvre (three goals) hit the post with 15 seconds left, and for the second time in a week, players and students from Yorktown stormed the field to celebrate.
In the 26 years the Cornhuskers have won a sectional championship, only twice have they not advanced to the state semifinals - when Niskayuna beat them in 2000 and '05. Yorktown made sure there wouldn't be a third time.
"We were definitely doubted throughout this entire season," Bonitatibus said. "We lost some very bad games. But we picked it up at sectionals. The intensity has been picked up and we realized we could play with all these teams."