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.