BY JOHN THEALL Sports writer
SHOT ON GOAL — RFA attacker Jacob Gulla winds up for a shot as Henninger High's Larry Jackson defends during a Central New York Counties League game on Thursday at the Stadium. The host Black Knights won in overtime, 6-5. (Sentinel photo by John Clifford)
Better late than never is starting to sound like the battle cry for the Rome Free Academy boys lacrosse team this season.
In a rematch from their season opener against Central New York Counties League foe Henninger High of Syracuse on a brisk Thursday afternoon at the Stadium, the Black Knights showed just how effective the motto could be.
Garrett Janes scored his second goal of the game on a screamer past netminder Patrick Royle during a sudden death overtime while senior goalie John Urbanik finished with 16 saves as the Black Knights went on to post a thrilling 6-5 overtime victory to snap a two-game losing skid.
Janes misfired over the top of the net on Rome’s first shot in overtime before he got another opportunity moments after and would not over shoot again as he rocked and fired to beat a tough Royle and avenge a 9-4 loss in Rome’s season opener.
"In the first game against them, we came out a little sloppy and lost. It was tough on us, but we came back hard today and it was a nice game because this seemed like it was a make-it or break-it game for our season," Janes said after the emotional victory.
"I just tried to keep the offense moving, worked it in and the goal happened," he said about the game-winner.
"Everyone knew that we had to get the job done and that (game-tying) goal right there wasn’t going to make the game-winner, so we had to come back and fight even harder for that last goal," added Janes.
Trailing 5-4, the Black Knights attacker Nick Kieffer scored with 1:07 left in regulation to bring the game to a stalemate after Henninger had taken their first lead of the game in the opening minutes of the final quarter with a top shelf goal from Andrew Jackson to beat a rock solid Urbanik for a rare score on net.
Urbanik then made four straight saves inside the final four minutes, including a shot that he blocked with the top of his stick, before the stingy Black Knights’ defense looked for a streaking Kieffer down the sidelines towards the opposing net.
Kieffer got the ball and charged hard towards the goal and peppered in the game-tying shot past Royle in front of a sparse crowd.
"I just kept thinking I have to make the save or get the ball down the field to put them in a position to score," Urbanik said about the crucial four-minute span that Henninger kept possession down in Rome’s end.
"I just tried my hardest to stop every shot that came my way and I try to do that every game, just in this game I came up bigger than others," he added.
Royle finished with 10 saves in the losing effort.
RFA coach Guy Calandra was pleased to just come away with the victory and was pleased with the team’s determination near the end of the game.
"I’d rather we make the plays late than early. We tell them all the time it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish and today is a testament of that," Calandra said after the roller coaster win.
"We ran a real good man-up scheme, got some good space and a good look, he (Janes) just turned and finished," added Calandra.
"We were just able to make the plays when it mattered most."
Rome, 2-5 in the CNYCL and 3-5 overall, took a fast 3-0 lead into the second half with a first quarter score from Matt Leggett, followed by a pair of goals from Devin Trifeletti and Janes in the second quarter.
With the lead, Rome’s defense was swarming the visitors’ big scorers in Jackson, Alex Carni and Colin Montgomery.
The trio scored eight of Henninger’s nine goals against the Romans in the two team’s first meeting in Syracuse at the beginning of the month, but this time they were held to only four goals and one assist in the loss.
"We really shut down the players that destroyed us the first time we played them and we made it harder for them to get to the goal," said Urbanik, who stopped nine of his 16 saves in the first quarter.
The senior keeper, who also allows around 10 goals per game on the season, quickly gave credit to his defenders for their elevated play this season to lead to his success.
Jackson and Carni were held to two goals apiece while Montgomery had an assist for Henninger, which has dropped its last three games and moved to 2-4 in the league and 3-5 overall.
The Black Knights’ defense, which is coached by former RFA standout lacrosse player Jeremy Roberts, drew the praise of Calandra after the game.
"Our goalie, our defense, and Coach Roberts are the backbone of our team. We are giving up only 10 goals per game, and that’s great because they put us in great position to win every game," Calandra said.
"Without our defense, without our goalie, we wouldn’t be in a close game like we were today. They give us a chance to come back and win games and that’s what they did today," he added.
Ethan Froelich, Rich Stapleton, Joe Fitzgerald, and Ian Ford were the "tight-knit" group of players that saw the most time on the defensive side of the ball for the Black Knights and are all said to be "very well in tune with what Roberts has been doing in games" this season according to Coach Calandra.
RFA will host longtime rival Whitesboro on Saturday afternoon at 5:30.
"Our heads are up high and chins are up high right now and we are ready to go. We know what we have to do to make playoffs, and Whitesboro will be a big test for us on Saturday," Janes said.