By PHIL BLACKWELL and ROB JONAS
No one on the Bethlehem boys soccer team traveled this far, with this much support, exerting this much effort, to return home with anything other than victory.
And that is just what the Eagles got in last Friday night's Class AA regional final, withstanding every kind of assault from Section III champion Cicero-North Syracuse to prevail 1-0 in an emotional affair at West Genesee High School near Syracuse.
In fact, the emotions got out of hand. Officials called the game with 11 seconds left after three CNS players were issued red cards in a storm of frustration at seeing its great season come to an end.
By the time everyone cooled down, Bethlehem players had run over to the bleachers, celebrating with the large contingent of black-and-orange-clad supporters that had traveled more than two hours to see the Eagles reach the state final four for the first time in team history.
It's amazing to have that kind of support, said goalkeeper Jason Daniels, referring to the 200-plus students and parents (even the pep band) that all made the trip and, at times, drowned out the CNS contingent.
Fans on both sides witnessed a tense and exciting battle, where the Eagles took full advantage of the opportunity it got, and spent much of the other time holding on.
Each side had plenty of attacks early on, but the Northstars looked ready to go in front when, in the 17th minute, Jeff Gilbert charged in from the left.
Daniels ran out to meet him and made the stop far outside his net, then sprinted back in time to grab the ball again before the rebound went behind him.
Then in the 28th minute, the Eagles pulled out in front. Star forward Darko Knesevic, a handful all night for CNS defenders, ignited the push, and a great series of passes set up Bryan White, who dribbled around goalie Ryan Goettel and poked the ball home.