Cazenovia football head coach Tom Neidl made it very clear that the difference between his squad and Chenango Forks in last Saturday night's Class B regional final was quite thin.
"We needed one more big play," he said. "And we didn't get it."
Since that didn't take place, the Lakers' season again ended at the Blue Devils' hands, a 12-7 defeat at Binghamton's Alumni Stadium that marked the seventh year in a row where Forks prevailed in this round against the Section III representative.
Unlike the rain-soaked 3-0 loss sustained in the 2006 regional final, Cazenovia did not have to worry about precipitation on a cold, clear night where temperatures plunged into the 20s.
Instead, the primary concern was going up against Forks' well-regarded defense, which had blanked the Lakers the year before (aided in no small part by the rain), and possesses a potent combination of speed and physical play that most teams cannot handle.
Immediately, Forks allowed that defense to play with the lead, taking the opening kickoff and going 64 yards against Cazenovia's own vaunted defense. The big play, a 36-yard pass from Jake Reynolds to Garret Cade, set up Nick Stephens' five-yard touchdown run.
Starting out in its conventional set, the Lakers could get nothing going in either of its first two series. Significantly, the option to tailback Chris Nourse that worked so well in the sectional Class B final against Westhill was shut down as Forks defenders quickly clogged up any possible lanes.
Mixing up power runs with play-action passes, Reynolds again moved the Blue Devils down the field on its third possession, a 69-yard march that stretched into the second quarter. From the Lakers' 26, Reynolds found Clint Cade over the middle at the 13, and Cade ran over a tackle and drove down the sideline to the end zone.