When it languished at 0-3, the Fayetteville-Manlius football team still harbored the belief that its season could be a great one, even if no one else outside the program thought that way.
Well, the secret is out.
By handing Rome Free Academy its first defeat of the season in a tough 14-3 battle on Homecoming last Friday night, the Hornets clawed into a share of first place in the Class AA-2 league, a complete turnaround from its early struggles.
"It's an extraordinary victory for us," said head coach Paul Muench. "Any time you beat RFA, it's big. People started to write us off a little bit, but this team is up to something special."
Mostly, this win featured the tough, focused effort of the Hornets' defense. It kept the Black Knights from getting away in the early going, then clamped down in the second half with a ferocious pass rush at its core.
RFA came in sporting a five-game win streak, but it took the field without its top quarterback, Aaron Gregory, who was injured the week before against Henninger.
With Ryan Harris working under center, the Black Knights twice drove inside the Hornets' 10-yard line in the first half. Yet all it could produce was Justin Manning's 24-yard field goal, as F-M's defense offered its biggest resistance near the goal line.
For its part, the Hornets' offense displayed lots of early patience, as quarterback Buddy Leathley often threw to the sidelines to stretch out RFA's secondary and open up the middle. Good punts by the Knights kept F-M in poor field position.
Midway through the second quarter, the Hornets' patience paid off. From his own 48-yard line, Leathley looked to the sideline again, throwing RFA's defense off. He then threw a perfect strike down the middle to Scott Kleinlaus, who took it the rest of the way, 52 yards to the end zone. F-M had a 7-3 lead.