In their own manners, football teams at Jamesville-DeWitt and East Syracuse Minoa faced crucial tests at the outset of their respective 2017 seasons.
For the Red Rams, it meant acquainting itself with the same Carthage side that knocked it out of last year’s Section III Class A playoffs and this time finishing on top, edging the Comets 6-0 on Friday night.
A day later, at the Carrier Dome, the Spartans faced a top Section V contender, Brighton, in the Kickoff Classic, and found itself overpowered by the Barons, taking a 37-13 defeat.
Both ESM and Brighton finished 2016 in the state Class A rankings, so the Spartans were quite aware of the challenge the Barons would bring.
Even with its power running attack, ESM was stopped twice in the first quarter, and Brighton pounced. A 62-yard march led to a seven-yard scoring pass from Shea McDonald to Noah Shinaman, and McDonald’s 48-yard pass to Andrew Zibuck early in the second quarter led to Ammon Jordan finding the end zone from four yards out.
The 14-0 deficit may have not proved ideal to a run-first side like the Spartans, but it started to fight back late in the half with a 69-yard scoring march where a mix of runs proved effective. Dan Garris, sharing quarterback duties with Dante Coccagnia, went the last two yards for the TD.
When ESM tried for a deep pass in order to catch up, Shinaman intercepted it at the Barons’ 30, keeping Brighton in front 14-7 as they went to halftime. And on the first possession of the third quarter, Brighton marched 69 yards, all on the ground, and restored its earlier margin when McDonald scored from six yards out on a third-down scramble.
It remained that way until the first minute of the fourth quarter, when a bad Brighton punt snap set up ESM on the Barons’ three-yard line, and Garris scored on the next play.
A botched conversion attempt meant the Spartans still trailed 21-13, and within less than two minutes McDonald restored Brighton’s margin with a 40-yard run and a 15-yard scoring pass to Shinaman. The Barons would add nine more points on a safety and Will Brownell’s 29-yard interception return for a TD.
All that happened in the Dome sharply contrasted the defense-first battle the night before at J-D, where the Red Rams, remembering what Carthage did to them nearly 10 months earlier, got a bit of payback.
Doing so required some patience, though. Neither J-D nor Carthage could get on the board in the first half as the two defenses did not face too much stress keeping the other side out of the end zone.
But in the third quarter, the Rams finally put together a drive, and Luke Smith broke free for a 24-yard sprint to the end zone. It was all J-D needed.
The Rams did control the ball for long stretches of the game, rushing for 258 yards, but splitting that production among seven players. Mike Anderson led with 57 yards on 11 carries, while Brian Villarealy got 51 yards on seven carries and Adam Honis had 39 yards on 11 carries.
It won’t get easier for J-D next Friday as Auburn, from the Class AA ranks, visits ahead of the Rams’ Sept. 15 showdown with ESM, who has a trip to Fulton.