Liam Ryan had a simple, yet precise insight as to how his Cazenovia football team survived Marcellus 16-14 in Saturday's Section III Class B semifinal at Chittenango High School.
"If our offense can't do it, our defense will," Ryan said.
Indeed, it was that Lakers defense that finally subdued the Mustangs, scoring all nine of the team's points in the fourth quarter, including a rare game-winning safety with 1:31 to play.
"Our defense played superb," head coach Tom Neidl said.
That final period began with Cazenovia and Marcellus locked in a 7-7 tie, and the Lakers looked to be in trouble when Jose Wells muffed a punt at his own 43-yard line and the Mustangs' Nick Huss recovered.
On the very next play, though, the defense turned it around - or, to put it more precisely, Chris Giardina turned it around.
Marcellus quarterback Kyle Hastings set up a pass to the right flat - but Giardina, from his spot in the secondary, jumped the route, made the interception at midfield and took off, 50 yards to the other end zone, to put Cazenovia ahead 14-7 with 10:18 left.
Still, the Mustangs fought back. With 6:14 to play, on third down at the Lakers' 45, Hastings threw to the sideline and, despite good single coverage, Chaz Hayes made a one-handed catch and went in for the touchdown. Nick Nye made the extra point, and it was tied again, 14-14.
Cazenovia got the ball back and, with four minutes left, converted a fourth down with a John Greacen run near midfield. Trying for the go-ahead score, Jeff Hopsicker threw deep with 1:55 left - and Hayes made the interception on his own two-yard line.
Instead of trying to sneak the ball up the middle or pass, Marcellus tried two runs. The first got stuffed and, on the second play, Ryan and Nick Petrovich combined to tackle Alfreds in the end zone for the decisive safety.