Oct 30, 2007 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
All that the Cicero-North Syracuse football program has ever wanted lies directly in front of them.
Not only do the Northstars have a chance to win its first-ever Section III Class AA title, it can do so within the familiar surroundings of Bragman Stadium.
Taking that last step to Saturday’s championship game against West Genesee was far from easy. It required patience, persistence and all sorts of late-game magic for the Northstars to beat Fayetteville-Manlius 16-13 in last Friday’s semifinal at Henninger High School’s Sunnycrest Field.
The game featured blocked kicks, turnovers, a heavy rain that made every play a nervous one, two different CNS comebacks in the fourth quarter, a fight to the final seconds — and just to make it complete, a power outage that may have proven to be fortuitous.
It began, though, as a simple story of CNS wanting payback. The last time it suffered defeat, it did so at the expense of F-M, a 28-14 decision on Sept. 12 where the Northstars led 14-0 early, only to see it slip away — a trend it would reverse in late-season rallies against Liverpool and West Genesee that produced a league championship.
All those rescue jobs would serve as an inspiration for CNS when things got choppy in the F-M rematch.
Unlike the first meeting, the Hornets charged in front, using its power running attack to move to the Northstars’ six-yard line, from where Matt Fallico scored to put F-M in front 7-0.
CNS offered a quick answer late in the first quarter, driving to the Hornets’ 11 before the drive stalled. Andrew Falvey hit a 28-yard field goals, and the Northstars were on the board.
Yet it all looked to be going the Hornets’ way when, nearly four minutes into the second quarter, it moved to the CNS 16-yard line, ready to go up by double digits.
Then the lights went out.
For a half-hour, players on both teams waited for power to be restored, and during that time, all the early momentum F-M had built slowly dissipated.
Once the game resumed, the Northstars made an immediate defensive stop at the five-yard line, then got even more energy when Casey Schneible broke through and blocked Frank Squadrito’s 22-yard field-goal attempt.
CNS then spent the rest of the half staging its own slow, steady march to the Hornets’ goal line, intending to take the lead. But F-M repeated the Northstars’ feat by making a stop inside the 20, then blocking a field-goal try as Dan Cerio got a hand on Falvey’s 28-yard attempt.
So they went to the break still 7-3, and the third quarter was a total stalemate, both sides playing superb defense — the Northstars preventing any kind of F-M passing game, the Hornets containing Laquan James and daring CNS to throw.
Late in the period, CNS began driving again, reaching the Hornets’ 14 early in the fourth quarter. Stymied from everything else, Steven Ianzito went to his most reliable play — a high throw that only 6-5, 235-pound tight end Jeff Falvey could grab.
Sure enough, Falvey caught that pass in the end zone, and after trailing all night, CNS had a 10-7 lead — but it wouldn’t last long.
Sticking mostly to the ground, F-M answered by going 61 yards in 13 plays, not stopping until Austin Straub had scored from two yards out with 6:23 left in regulation.
Again behind, 13-10, CNS drew upon all those October comebacks when it took over at its own 21-yard line on the ensuing possession.
This meant James, as he at last found room to run the ball, taking off on 39 and 18-yard scampers deep into Hornet territory. Two plays inside the 20 went nowwhere, leading to third-and-12 from the Hornets’ 19.
What had worked before would work again. With 3:41 left, Ianzito rolled out to buy himself some time against the F-M pass rush, then fired to the end zone. Once again, Jeff Falvey was there, and the 19-yard catch put CNS back in the lead.
F-M still had time to do something, and twice would get the ball in the final minutes. Both times, though, those drives ended in interceptions, and when Leathley’s last, desperate throw was picked off by Ianzito, the celebration on the Northstars’ sideline began.
Soggy, but satisfied, CNS could now return home and prepare for West Genesee and, arguably, the most significant game in the school’s history other than its 1994 title-game loss to Liverpool.
The Northstars and Wildcats met on Oct. 14 in a classic battle for the AA-1 division title. Down by two touchdowns at one point, CNS stormed back to tie it, then got a late interception to set up Andrew Falvey’s field goal as time ran out that gave CNS a dramatic 30-27 win.
Since that point, the Wildcats have reeled off playoff wins over Henninger (31-6) and Liverpool (31-14), the latter one on CNS turf, so it in no way will feel intimidated by the setting as the Wildcats go after its first championship since 1988.
In 2002, head coach Steve Ellis came back to his alma mater to take over the CNS program. Five years later, he could take the Northstars to new heights.