To beat the best, it was going to take a complete effort. Port Chester learned that the hard way on Sunday in its Class A state final against Jericho, as the Rams spotted the defending state champs two early goals, rallied, but came up just short in an unforgettable 2-1 loss.
"I think the nerves got to us, being on such a big stage," senior goalkeeper Jose Gonzalez said. "We came out a little flat, and that's why they got those two goals."
Port Chester looked like a team that was overwhelmed by the moment to begin the game, as a defensive lapse led to a quick strike from Jericho's Zach Cohen in the second minute.
In the 10th minute, Jericho (20-1-1) struck again, with Ajani Motta cashing in on a ball that was misplayed by the Rams.
"On D, we weren't exactly marking up how we're supposed to," senior defender Bryan Suertegaray said. "The second goal was an unlucky touch by one of our defenders. He tried to clear it out, and it tipped off the back of my foot. Unfortunately, there was a guy right there to put it away for them."
In an attempt to rally the team, Port Chester coach John Cafaldo called star striker Steven Hernandez off the bench. The super freshman didn't start the game due to a ligament strain in his right elbow, but told his coach that he wanted to play through it.
"I talked to him on the way up after he went and got it looked at last night," Cafaldo said. "He said he could play; he didn't know if he could start. I was trying to go on a gut feeling. ... I tried to get him in there for a spark, but it looked like he was pretty limited."
Despite Hernandez being smothered by Jericho's defense, the Rams (19-2-2) turned things on in a big way after going down 2-0. Suertegaray shifted momentum in their favor in the 14th minute, getting his head on a corner kick from Alexis Valdovinos for the goal.
"Alexis is always great with his set pieces," Suertegaray said. "They were marking me up with their tallest man. I just tried to get behind him so I could get some space to put my head in there."
Port Chester continued to pepper the Jericho goal for the final 30 minutes of the first half, controlling possession and creating several chances. The Rams best opportunity to equalize came in the 36th minute when there was a chaotic scramble in front of the goal, but goalkeeper Ari Lewis was brilliant all game.
"I don't know how it didn't go in," Cafaldo said. "That could have been huge if we get a toe poke or something there. (Lewis) was on the ground, he went out, he came back in, he used a leg, an arm -- I saw body parts flailing all over the place there."
After having the defending champs on the ropes for the majority of the first half, play began to even out in the second half. The wear and tear of a draining playoff season seemed to take its toll, as Port Chester barely missed capturing the first state title in school history.
"This is a great group of kids," Suertegaray said. "I still think we're the best team in the state. We never gave up."