Cicero-North Syracuse wide receiver Lukas Merluzzi (7) catches a touchdown pass in front of Baldwinsville’s Austin Lehman with two seconds left in the first half, a critical play that helped propel the Northstars to a 67-31 victory over the Bees in Friday night’s Class AA-2 division showdown at Bragman Stadium.
Unaccustomed to facing much adversity so far in this 2017 season, the Cicero-North Syracuse football team met it head-on when it clashed with Baldwinsville in last Friday night’s showdown between undefeated, state-ranked Class AA-2 division powers at Bragman Stadium.
In fact, with less than a minute to play in the first half, the no. 8-ranked Northstars trailed the no. 14-ranked Bees, and had allowed 31 points – more than it had given up in its first five games combined.
Yet it was just what C-NS needed, for it scored twice in those waning seconds of the second quarter, tacked on four more touchdowns in the second half and pulled away to beat B’ville 67-31.
“Sixty-seven points is a lot,” said Northstars head coach Dave Kline. “Our offense was clicking. This was a physical challenge, and we responded to it.”
Indeed, led by the high-powered duo of quarterback Conner Hayes and tailback Erik Pride, the Northstars found the end zone 10 times on this night, three times scoring in fourth-down situations and five times scoring on drives of one minute or less.
Hayes said all of this was the result of a fine game plan from the coaches, adding that the challenge B’ville provided was just what his team needed after a season full of lopsided victories.
What made this game so exciting in the first half was that the Bees didn’t flinch in the face of C-NS’s high-octane offense. Even when it took a combined five plays to push the Northstars to a 14-3 lead in the first quarter on TD runs of 39 yards by Pride and 44 yards by Hayes, B’ville had an answer.
E.J. Edmonds’ interception set up the Bees’ first touchdown on Aquari Warner’s four-yard run. After Hayes threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Lukas Merluzzi on fourth down early in the second quarter, B’ville countered with Warner’s 54-yard sprint to set up Ben Dwyer’s one-yard scoring plunge.
The exchange made it 20-17, and when Jeremiah Willis fumbled the ensuing kickoff inside his own five and the Bees recovered, Warner scored from one yard out to give B’ville a 24-20 lead.
Pride’s second TD on a 17-yard run put C-NS back in front but, again, the Bees would strike back, turning a long Edmonds kick return into points when Dwyer found Gabe Horan in the end zone on a 12-yard scoring pass with 56.5 seconds left in the half.
That, of course, was still ample time for the Northstars, down 31-27, to get points before the break. What happened went beyond C-NS’s most optimistic forecasts.
On the very next play from scrimmage, Hayes again sprinted into the B’ville secondary and didn’t get caught, a 57-yard TD sprint. What’s more, the Northstars’ Tom McDonald recovered the ensuing onside kick, and with just enough time C-NS converted again on Hayes’ 30-yard scoring pass to Merluzzi with two seconds left.
Even with a 39-31 halftime lead, though, the voices were loud in the locker room. Kline said he questioned his players’ intensity and manhood, and it responded, especially on defense, closing down the lanes B’ville had waltzed through in the first two periods.
And though it didn’t need any more points, C-NS kept going, Pride scoring on an 11-yard run early in the third quarter and, on yet another fourth-down conversion, Hayes finding Shy’rel Bridgewater on a nine-yard TD pass.
Pride would score once more on an 11-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter as Willis, atoning for his earlier fumble, got the conversion to push the point total to 60 and then dashed 58 yards for one more touchdown with 8:49 left.
C-NS will finish its regular season this Saturday at Utica Proctor. Kline said there’s no limit to what the Northstars could yet accomplish.
“I don’t know if there is a ceiling for this team,” he said.