For just the briefest of moments, Jamesville-DeWitt boys soccer players and fans stood frozen in fear, worried that the Red Rams' slim lead over Chittenango in Thursday night's Section III Class A semifinal at West Genesee High School had vanished.
Then came the referee's whistle - and redemption, in the form of an offsides call that wiped out Erik Szczerba's possible tying goal and, in the end, preserved a 1-0 win over the Bears.
With that win, J-D, who has never won a sectional title, advanced to meet top seed New Hartford in the Class A championship game. The Spartans beat Watertown 1-0 in the other semifinal on Tuesday.
It wasn't too surprising that the defenses would dominate in the first half. After all, J-D and Chittenango had met twice in the regular season, splitting those games, and each side generally knew what the other would do. Also, a cold, howling wind and precipitation (rain, then snow) made it difficult for both teams to operate.
For the most part, the Rams spent the half probing, but not attacking. The lone exception came in the 28th minute, when Tom Lukow (whose overtime goal eliminated Fowler in the quarterfinals) broke up the middle, alone, and struck a shot past Bears goalie Zach Boswell - but it went just wide of the net.
Early in the second half, the Bears, with the wind at its back, attacked hard, but J-D's defense was ready. Tim Kendrick, Steve Aziz, Tom Driscoll and Matt Kopp turned Chittenango's forwards away, and goalie Zack Tanner made all the key stops, too.
Gradually, the Rams picked up its pressure, gaining confidence. Then, midway through the second half, Boswell mishandled a J-D corner kick from Jimmy Fazio - and Noel Williams pounced, poking the loose ball into the net.
Now J-D protected that lead against all of the Bears' late charges. Then, with three minutes left, Szczerba flashed open and beat Tanner - but was a couple of steps offsides, nullifying the equalizer.
So Chittenango finished with a 13-3-2 record, as seniors like Boswell, Tom Connelly, Kyler Gibb, Luke Greiner, Josh Kimber and Jeremy Stedman graduate. Key players like Szczerba, Luca Bottoni, Mike Moon, Corey Rivet, Dan Scavone and Mike Koegel will come back in 2010.
Both of J-D's soccer teams are going after sectional Class A titles, with the girls Red Rams meeting East Syracuse-Minoa Saturday night at 7:30 at SUNY-Cortland.