SYRACUSE Jamesville-DeWitt's last football game was in the Carrier Dome 10 months ago, a bitter 14-7 defeat to Nottingham that kept the Red Rams from earning its first sectional title since 1997.
But the return trip for Saturday night's Kickoff Classic had a different outcome as J-D, overcoming a right knee injury to quarterback Jack Brotzki, came from behind to beat Cheektowaga 13-12 in a gritty, tough performance.
What appeared to be a disastrous situation turned triumphant when the Rams' defense forced three second-half turnovers and Brotzki's replacement, Nate Shapiro, made several timely plays, especially on a long fourth-quarter drive that ate up the last 9:25 of the clock.
Going into its season opener, J-D's biggest challenge, aside from a high-quality Section VI (Buffalo area) opponent in Cheektowaga returning most of its starters from a season ago, was seeing if its offense could maintain its potency without Taumeras Howard and Josiah Williams, the stars in the Rams' run to that sectional final a year ago.
Instead of big-play capability, though, J-D opted for toughness and physical play through its "Flexbone" formations, with plenty of power running from returning senior fullback Rasheed Baker mixed with speed from tailback Kayvon Anderson, on its opening drive.
Though the drive moved inside Cheektowaga's 20, it was tempered by Brotzki's knee injury, which forced Shapiro into duties he only assumed a couple of weeks ago, after another injury sidelined original backup Joe Murphy for the season.
Immediately, Shapiro threw an interception, but Preston Summers fumbled on the return and J-D got it back on the Warriors' 40.
Given a second chance, the Rams didn't waste it, Baker busting through tackles on a 33-yard jaunt to the end zone that put his team in front 6-0 as the extra-point attempt clanked off the post.
Cheektowaga would counter with its own drive that tied the game 6-6 early in the second quarter. And it was Summers, atoning for his fumble on the interception, that juggled, and then held on to, a high-arcing 38-yard scoring pass from Zach Ciezki that erased the Rams' early lead.