For an entire week, East Syracuse-Minoa football followers wondered how the Spartans would respond to a damaging Sept. 18 home loss to Fulton.
It didn't help that Carthage, a perennial contender from the Class A National division, showed up on ESM's new artificial turf field seven days later to offer another serious test.
This time, though, the Spartans would finish on top, holding off the Comets 21-18 by making some key defensive stops down the stretch.
Even though this was a non-league game, ESM had to pay full attention, for there was a chance the Spartans and Comets could meet again come Class A playoff time.
So ESM stayed patient through the first quarter, where Carthage controlled the ball and used Ian Ates' 32-yard field goal to seize a 3-0 lead.
That deficit didn't last long. Louis Sharp came through with a blocked punt that gave ESM prime field position, and moments later Dustin Moss scored on a one-yard plunge.
That lead grew to 14-3 when the Spartans, on its next possession, again turned to Moss to finish things off with a nine-yard touchdown run.
Still up by double digits going into the second half, ESM had to answer after Carthage's Jolyon Davis scored on a 19-yard run to make it 14-10.
Sticking to the game plan, the Spartans continued to rely on Moss. Eventually, the senior carried the ball 38 times for 223 yards, and his 11-yard TD run in the third period would prove to be the winning points.
Cartahge almost came back anyway. Josh Amann's five-yard TD run late in the third quarter, combined with Clay Nutters' two-point pass to Josh Britton, cut the margin to three.
ESM would spend the entire fourth quarter trying to hang on, especially in the final minutes. Carthage drove it deep into ESM territory, only needing a field goal for the tie - but Sharif Nero forced a crucial fumble that ESM recovered, saving the night.
To have a chance at a playoff home game, ESM will need to survive this Friday's 6:30 trip to Jamesville-DeWitt. After an 0-2 start, the Red Rams have won two in a row, both in league play, and just beat Nottingham 14-7 to stay in the Class A American division race, right behind Fulton, who kept the lead by routing Cortland 57-13.