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Empty Feeling In Final

Kevin Garcia slowly meandered to the St. Francis Prep sideline, sidestepping a few exultant Fordham Prep players. Tommy Garafola remained on the Belson Stadium turf for several moments, his jersey pulled over his head, hiding tears that trickled down his cheeks.
It was not the ending either one of the Terriers’ linchpins had in mind. They were the ones who were supposed to be celebrating a second consecutive city championship.
Instead, they watched Fordham Prep jubilantly dance with their plaques after a humbling 1-0 defeat last Saturday afternoon in the CHSAA intersectional championship game, the Bronx school’s first title since 1991.
“It’s the worst,” Garafola said. “I can’t even explain it. I have no words.”
“We were the favorite,” Garcia said. “We felt St. Francis Prep was the best team in this league and in the city, and it’s shocking to see another team take away our title just like that.”
“It hurts pretty badly,” St. Francis Prep Coach Franco Purificato said. “It sucks to lose. No one wants to sit here and watch the other team with the trophy in their hands.”
One year ago, St. Francis (13-3-4) defeated Fordham Prep in penalty kicks, their second city title in four years. Garcia set that victory in motion by moving back into net. This time, he was not the hero. Twice, he was turned away by the Rams (13-2-1) keeper Ryan Meara, including one headlong dive to knock away a blast from straight on 35 yards out in the 53rd minute.
“[He’s] a good goalie,” Garcia said. “He made a good save.”
It was obvious from the start that it was not going to be an easy afternoon. The Rams came out as the aggressor, their 1-0 semifinal win over Molloy clearly a confidence booster. They had already taken out one of Queens’ best, so why not another?
The start was all Fordham. They had several good chances early on and struck first for the only goal when Brendan Cullinan beat Nick Parais high off a scramble 17 yards out in the 19th minute.
“The performance wasn’t the level I expected,” Garcia said. “Fordham Prep was showing a lot more heart; they wanted it more than us today. I don’t know what happened.”
It would be all the scoring Meara needed. He made several monumental saves, including the one on Garcia.
There were also fortunate bounces that went the Rams’ way. Midfielder Mike Santalesa, who’s goal was the difference in the Terriers’ semifinal match, bent his left-footed set piece a few inches too much, the shot skimming the right 90 - the bar connecting the right post and crossbar - in the 62nd minute. Garcia also saw his header get by Meara in the game’s final minute only for fullback Mike Mazzullo to race back to register the team save.
“They didn’t want to go in today,” Purificato lamented. “Another day, those are three goals.”
Now, the Terriers must regroup. Their pre-season goal of a CHSAA city and state title is unattainable. Last year, after winning cities, the Terriers fell short in the state semis. They can at least reverse that order.
The 13 seniors who saw their city titles fade to black can still cap their careers with a state crown. It is just not the championship they figured to be hoisting.
“We’ll try to refocus; it’s not going to be easy to build them up again,” Purificato said.
“I think everybody’s going to be motivated,” Garafola said. “This loss was a wake-up call.”

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