It's no secret the Buffalo Public Schools takes pride in its boys soccer, but so too does Lackawanna.
Both have reasons to be talking proud after capturing Section VI championships on a cold, damp evening in suburbia.
While Lackawanna and Riverside each got the early jump on their respective opponents, the Steelers needed to make a late push to finally get the better of postseason nemesis I-Prep/Grover.
Lackawanna scored three times in the opening half and then withstood a furious comeback bid by the Presidents to capture the Class B-1 title with a 4-3 victory Wednesday night at Bob Barczak Stadium at Sweet Home.
A hockey-type scenario turned out to be the key moment in a game filled with them. Steelers goalkeeper Ibrahim Albakri made a sliding breakaway stop to prevent I-Prep from tying the game 3-3 with roughly 19 minutes left. Four minutes later, ailing senior captain Abdulhamid Albaneh, who has seen limited playing time the last five weeks due to a painful lower-body injury, scored what proved to be the game-winning goal off s corner kick – the tally that enabled Lackawanna to advance to next Wednesday's overall Class B championship final against Riverside.
"This is a great win for Lackawanna High School," coach Abdulsalam K. Noman said. "We worked hard. … Thank God we showed everybody that we could win. The players played really hard. We lost against I-Prep twice in the past. Finally we basically got to them."
Wednesday's twin bill began with the Class B-2 final. Riverside started fast and cruised to a 7-3 victory over Olmsted, another D'Youville Cup League member. Say Reh scored twice for Frontiers, who won their first sectional title since 2012.
"I've played high school soccer for four years and this was the first time I've made it to the final," Reh said. "We were comfortable from the beginning. We knew we were going to take the championship. …We want to keep winning, hopefully go to states."
Riverside and Lackawanna will play for the overall Section VI Class B final at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 1 at Bob Barczak Stadium.
The Steelers are trying to get to the Far West Regional for the first time. They have momentum, finally beating I-Prep after losing to the President the last two seasons in sectional finals, including last year's 8-2 defeat in the overall B final.
While I-Prep graduated several members of that powerhouse team that won four straight Section VI titles, the Presidents did not look out of place against the top-ranked small school team in Western New York. I-Prep even had the better of the scoring chances in this game.
The key: Lackawanna (17-2), winner of 12 straight since a 1-0 loss to Riverside, buried its chances – especially during the opening 10 minutes when free kicks led to two goals by Ilyas Galab. Jabreel Almontaser assisted on both. The lead grew to 3-0 on an own goal credited to Rashadi Afif with 17:13 left in the first half.
The Presidents mounted a charge. They pulled within one with more than 25 minutes left after goals four minutes apart by Solomon Thang and Daniel Parker. I-Prep (15-4-1) had a chance to tie about 6 minutes later, but that's when Albakri made perhaps his biggest save of the season.
"I didn't want to let my teammates down so I had to make the save for my team," Albakri said. "I knew I was going to get it."
Ha Tin scored with 2:50 left for the Presidents but Lackawanna milked the rest of the clock.
"We had some missed opportunities and they didn't," fifth-year Presidents coach Tony Alessi said. "But our guys could have easily quit down 3-0 at halftime. I'm very proud of the way we fought back. We went down to the very end."
In the B-2 contest, Omran Dalil, Ali Atta, Bawi Lian Khan, Charite lzaaki and Pay Bu also scored in the victory for Riverside (14-6), which led 5-1 at halftime.
Jonah Fogel scored twice for Olmsted, the second early in the second half to make things mildly interesting. The Owls (9-8-1) came in averaging 5.5 goals their last two playoff games but couldn't get any closer.
"There's always been a good culture of playing hard soccer and I just wanted to bring Riverside back to the point where we could be proud to be talking about our soccer team," fourth-year coach Geoff Hurley said. "It was an up and down season. Someone may say we had a better team last season but I say we have a more complete team this season. We play in the toughest league in Buffalo. Buffalo soccer as you can see, three out of four teams in the sectional final for B. … I think the competitiveness of our schedule made it so we could show off our skill today."