Knowing that the path ahead in the Class AA-1 division would only get rougher, the Cicero-North Syracuse football team had to start strong.
And when league play commenced last Friday night at Bragman Stadium, the Northstars did exactly that, taking it to Utica Proctor on both sides of the ball while on its way to a 34-0 shutout of the Raiders.
This moved CNS to 3-0, as it kept up with AA-1 league rivals West Genesee and CBA, both of whom are also unbeaten through three games.
The difference with the Northstars is the way it is playing defense. CNS had only allowed 26 total points to Central Square and Auburn in its first two games, but would get even better against a Proctor team still in search of its first victory in 2008.
Led by Artie Cooper, the Northstars applied constant pressure, restricted the Raiders' ability to make plays and hit hard, all leading to a shutout.
Cooper, named the Defensive Player of the Game, had an interception, three tackles and two passes knocked down. Sean Pease had nine tackles, with Corey Barnes adding eight tackles and Austin Hyde and Matt West adding seven tackles apiece.
Chad Dubiel, Brian Dykeman and Xavier Richardson each joined Cooper with interceptions, while West and Barnes forced fumbles.
Launching a first-half blitz, quarterback Ryan Lacey found Chad Dubiel deep for a 58-yard touchdown pass, and he went deep again to find Jaiquan Jones for a 52-yard scoring strike later in the period.
These were the type of deep passes missing from CNS's arsenal early in the season as Lacey got used to his new starting role. Best of all, the big plays helped spread out Proctor's defense, giving the Northstars a chance to run the ball well.
For the game, Lacey went nine-for-14 for 233 yards, and was named the team's Offensive Player of the week for the third consecutive game. Jones had 99 yards on just three catches, with Dubiel accumulating 79 yards on his two catches.