Not so long ago, the East Syracuse-Minoa football team could look at an opponent like Cortland and not worry too much about how it would turn out.
But the rapid improvement of the Purple Tigers had produced a Class A playoff appearance in 2007 and a 3-0 start this fall. This made Cortland's visit to Spartan Stadium last Friday night the most important game so far in the Class A American division.
With first place on the line, ESM made timely offensive plays to get in front, then turned the show over to its defense to scrape past the Purple Tigers by a score of 14-7.
For the second time in three weeks, the Spartans found itself playing in wet conditions. And perhaps it wasn't a coincidence that, just like the Sept. 12 game at Fulton (a 10-7 thriller won by Andy Heagle's last-second field goal), points would be precious.
Thus, ESM felt quite good when, on its opening series of the game, it moved to Cortland's 33-yard line, then seized a 7-0 lead when quarterback Ben Kreischer threw deep and found Ziad Jinadu in the end zone for the touchdown.
Patiently, Cortland provided an answer, needing 10 plays to go 54 yards and scoring on Josh Morehouse's one-yard run just before the first quarter.
So it was 7-7, and it would remain that way the rest of the first half. Both teams were content to establish their respective running games, especially in Cortland's case since ESM had already forced Purple Tigers quarterback Dan Porter into a pair of interceptions.
Early in the third quarter, Cortland took possession, then marched deep into Spartan territory, ready to go in front. But on ESM's 13-yard line, Porter had trouble with the handoff and the wet ball fell to the turf, pounced on by defensive lineman Charlie Moore.