Just as the sun dipped down on a cold Thursday night at West Genesee High School, the Fayetteville-Manlius boys soccer team began its battle against Cicero-North Syracuse in the Section III Class AA semifinals.
Three hours later, when Addison Straub's penalty kick found the back of the net, the Hornets had beaten the Northstars and were bound for Tuesday night's title game against top seed Baldwinsville.
What happened in between was several seasons of drama packed into an epic game that was, at times, boring, exciting, violent, exhilarating and exhausting, all in one breath.
The boring part came first. Neither side could mount a serious attack in a first half full of defensive domination. F-M's back line of Bennett Sluis, Brian Murphy, Jim Dittmar and Seth Teplitsky did their best work here, never letting CNS utilize its front-line speed.
All that changed 20 seconds into the second half. When F-M goalkeeper Alex Cameron-Carter left the net to try to punch the shot away from his zone, it went right to Kenny Cooper, who blasted a 30-yard shot into the net, giving CNS a 1-0 edge.
This shook both teams out of the early lethargy, and the pace intensified. Often, CNS fouled to give F-M free kicks, which led to more physical play -- and to the game's pivotal moment.
In the 65th minute, after play was stopped, Mike Mastriano, arguably the Northstars' best player, punched Alestalo after the whistle. A sideline official saw this, leading the main official to issue Mastriano a red card. This gave F-M an 11-on-10 advantage for the rest of the game.
Just two minutes later, Cameron-Carter collided with CNS junior Charles Haven in front of the net. While it didn't look serious at first, Haven required outside medical attention due to a collapsed lung and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.