True, it required an all-out effort on both the offensive and defensive sides, but the Canastota football team's dreams of a Section III Class C championship remain alive.
The Raiders met Herkimer Friday night at Schmidt-Borgognoni Field in the opening round of the expanded Class C tournament and, with some fourth-quarter points, beat the Magicians 21-17.
Once 0-2, Canastota has now reeled off five consecutive victories, and now is one of the four remaining teams in the East/South half of the Class C bracket.
This season, the playoffs doubled in size, from eight to 16 teams. Canastota would have made it under the old system, but still managed to flourish in the new format, at least for one week.
As it has done throughout this win streak, the Raiders relied on strong, consistent defense to frustrate Herkimer.
Three Canastota players led the resistance, as Jeff Merrill got 12 tackles, with Jake LaBarre and Zach Zupan each picking up 10 tackles. Zupan also forced two Herkimer turnovers, with an interception and fumble.
Meanwhile, the Raiders' offense produced a 7-0 lead in the opening period, as Sam Stagnitti scored on a one-yard plunge.
Herkimer tied it, 7-7, on John Bellinger's 19-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter, but Canastota offered a quick answer, going to the Magician's eight-yard line before LaBarre converted.
Ahead 14-7, Canastota hit a mid-game slump, and needed that defense to play at a high level, but Herkimer still came back.
Mike Fahy's 40-yard field goal made it 14-10 at the break, and though the Raiders pitched a third-quarter shutout, Fahy returned to find Myles Malta in the end zone on a three-yard TD pass early in the final period.
The Raiders stayed cool and patient, and again turned to its powerful ground game. LaBarre earned a good chunk of his 142 yards (on 21 carries) in a decisive drive where Stagnitta used a three-yard TD run to produce the winning points. Jamie Meade converted all three of his extra-point tries.