Oct 10, 2006 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Perhaps, in the farthest reaches of its collective imagination, the Cicero-North Syracuse football team had envisioned leading Christian Brothers Academy by 14 points in the second half.
And in its worst collective nightmares, the Northstars could not imagine it all falling apart.
Poised to end the Brothers’ 53-game regular-season win streak last Friday at Bragman Stadium, CNS let a frightening series of special-teams mistakes in the third quarter turn all the momentum around.
By the time it was done, the Northstars were on the wrong end of a 32-25 defeat, and found its Section III Class AA playoff hopes in jeopardy. It had gone from ecstasy to agony in the course of a single night.
All had gone according to plan in the game’s early stages. CNS sent linebackers after quarterback Mike Paulus, forcing the North Carolina-bound senior to rush his throws into a potent secondary that shut the Brothers’ vaunted passing game down.
Jamie Praino put his team on the board with a 33-yard field goal in the first quarter. With each possession precious, the Northstars made it 10-0 in the second quarter with an effective drive that culminated in Rich Lickfield’s one-yard scoring plunge.
Still up 10-3 at the half, CNS expected that the Brothers, flat and lacking energy in the early going, would show a lot more effort when it came out of the locker room.
To counter it, the Northstars unleashed a trick play early in the third period. The team’s top receiver, Steven Ianzito (also Greg Larioni’s backup at quarterback) took a reverse, then threw deep downfield and found Nick Blumer, a 51-yard TD play that built the lead to 17-3.
No one had beaten CBA in the regular season since Fulton had done so in the 1999 season opener, and even when the Brothers drove to a TD that cut the Northstars’ lead to 17-10, it seemed like CNS had control.
Then, the team’s lone weakness was exploited. Sam Stayer, the CNS center and long snapper, was out, and his replacement, Justin Brannock, could only snap with one hand due to a cast on the other one.
When CBA forced a punt, Brannock’s snap flew over Praino’s head, and though Praino covered it at the 12-yard line, the Brothers promptly tied it, 17-17, when Paulus threw a 13-yard scoring pass to Marcus Sales.
Again, CNS’s offense was stopped. Again, it was forced to punt, and after a penalty brought the first punt back, Brannock threw a low snap to Praino in the end zone, and all Praino could do was fall on it for a safety.
Fortunately, Praino’s ensuing free kick was a long one. Unfortunately, Leon Saddler returned it 68 yards for a touchdown. CBA had used 22 unanswered points, 16 of them a result of the bad punt snaps, to take a 25-17 lead.
Despite all this, the Northstars refused to go away. Larioni’s long throw in the fourth quarter forced a CBA pass interference penalty, and the Northstars cashed in when James scored his second TD of the night on a three-yard run. Larioni found Jeff Falvey for two points, and the two teams were in a 25-25 tie.
Try as it could, CNS could not pull ahead, and Paulus showed lots of late-game poise when he took the Brothers down the field in just five plays, culminating with Jovan Miller scoring on an 18-yard run with just 1:39 to play.
Now it was the Northstars’ turn. But unlike the Auburn game 13 days earlier, CNS could not get back even, as a series of good defensive plays allowed the Brothers to hang on and stay undefeated.
For CNS, the path to the playoffs is complicated. It must beat Baldwinsville (0-6) Friday night at Pelcher-Arcaro Stadium, then have Auburn lose to CBA and Corcoran beat Liverpool. That would put the Northstars in a tie for fourth place with Auburn, and CNS owns the tiebreaker because of its win over the Maroons in that two-day epic on Sept. 22 and 23.