Arlington shocks Brentwood in state final
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After securing a NYS Class AA semifinal win over Utica Proctor on Saturday, Arlington's Collin Illiano said his dream was close to becoming a reality.
Less than 24 hours later, it rang true.
Arlington (22-1) shocked undefeated Brentwood, 2-1, in Sunday's NYS Class AA championship at Middletown's Faller Field to take home the program's fourth state title.
"It's amazing," Illiano said. "I'm at a loss for words — to be honest with you. Like I said, I always dreamed for this and it came true."
Brentwood (22-1) entered the match undefeated and was the No. 2-ranked team in the country, according to the latest NSCAA poll. The Indians had allowed just one goal over their previous 12 games and had outscored the opposition a combined 75-6 on the year.
All of these gaudy stats placed Arlington in an unfamiliar role: underdog. Needless to say, the Admirals embraced it with open arms and flourished.
"That's the position that we wanted to be in," senior striker Jeff Greblick said. "We knew we were the underdogs and had nothing to lose. We just wanted to come out here and give our all.
"Our coaches were scouting till 2 a.m., looking at (Brentwood's) tapes and watching everything they did. They told us everything in the morning and we tried to go out to play to our advantages and exploit their weaknesses."
Greblick was absolutely fearless on the pitch, leading Arlington with a goal and an assist to earn MVP honors. He scored the game's first goal in the 34th minute off a well-played through ball from fellow striker David Verdis. Greblick ran onto the ball down the right side of the 18-yard box and blasted a shot that banged off the far post and in.
"It was adrenaline," said Greblick, who finished the year with a team-high 22 goals. "Verdis played a great ball in behind and I just tried to get my hips around it. Luckily, I just got it far post and it hit the inside and went in."
Feeding off the momentum, Arlington struck again 40 seconds later. This time it was Verdis, who hammered home a rebound off a Greblick shot that ricocheted off the right post.
The combination of Verdis and Greblick was simply too much for Brentwood to handle. The duo challenged every 50/50 ball, tracked back defensively to create counterattacks and were a constant threat in space on the flanks.
"(Greblick and Verdis) work so well together," Illiano said. "They aren't selfish at all like other forwards are. They play as a team."
Arlington — which took a 2-0 lead into the break — was immediately put on blast as the second half got underway. Brentwood came out like a different team and almost immediately cut the deficit in half. Carlos Menjivar finished a pass from Carlos Escobar in the 41st minute, breathing life back into the Indians.
But Arlington's defense rose to the challenge over the final 39 minutes to preserve the victory. Keeper Alex Fazio made five of his nine saves in the second half, including a point-blank one on a blast from Carlos Escobar with 22:57 left in regulation.
"I had to close down the space and make sure he didn't get the ball past me," Fazio said. "That's my job and I wanted to keep the win for my team."
Fazio wasn't just great at stopping shots. In fact, he probably made a bigger impact on crosses and corners, coming off his line to snatch the ball out of midair. Fazio was the biggest reason Brentwood failed to score off any of its nine corner kicks.
"Fazio, oh man," said Illiano, who helped fortify the defensive effort. "He's been solid the entire season. He's amazing, he really is. You can't ask for a better keeper."
Arlington junior defender Pat Mogan also turned in a stellar performance, using his size to contain Brentwood star midfielder Jonathan Interiano.
"Mogan did an amazing job on him," Illiano said. "He didn't like getting hit and Pat was hitting him all game and making sure he was there to shut him down."
It turned out to be a Hollywood ending for Arlington coach Craig Sanborn, who got off to a rocky start after taking over for legendary former coach Gary Montalto three years ago. In Sanborn's first season, the Admirals went 7-10, finishing below .500 for only the second time in program history and the first time since 1996.
Of course, fighting through the adversity made Sunday's result even sweeter.
"It's been a rough two or three years, but we finally made it here and it's amazing," Illiano said.
* Arlington beat Brentwood, 2-1, to win its last state crown back in 2006.
* Arlington's now 2-0 all-time against Brentwood, which has won state titles in 2010, 2008 and was co-champs with Guilderland in 1989.
Email Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com | Follow him on Twitter @MSGV_Icass