Liverpool running back Cade Clouthier (6) is accompanied by Kaleb Ohlemacher (5) as he scores one of his two first-half touchdowns in Friday night's Section III Class AA playoff game at Central Square. The Warriors went on to beat the Redhawks 26-22.
Almost from the moment the 2017 season began, it was safe to assume that the Cicero-North Syracuse football team would charge through its schedule and still be playing when it hosted the Section III Class AA semifinal games on the last Friday in October.
Few, however, imagined that Liverpool would be there, too, especially when it started 1-4 and appeared ready to miss the post-season just two years removed from winning a sectional title.
Yet when the Warriors went to Central Square Friday night and stunned the Redhawks 26-22 in the opening round of the sectional playoffs, it continued a startling turnaround that paralleled the dominant path C-NS was taking as it romped past Christian Brothers Academy 61-7 in its first-round game at Bragman Stadium.
Liverpool had to beat Nottingham and Auburn early in October just to reach the sectional playoffs. Then little was expected against a Central Square side that was 6-1 and was playing in front of its home crowd.
But the Redhawks did not have the post-season experience the Warriors possessed, and Liverpool’s poise was evident from the outset as it twice answered Central Square scoring drives.
Down 8-0, the Warriors got on the board in the first quarter with a drive to the Redhawks five-yard line, from where Cade Clouthier found the end zone. Clouthier scored again from nine yards out in the second period.
Despite that, Liverpool trailed, 14-12, when Naz Johnson struck for one of his trademark big play, throwing from the Central Square 39 deep as Kaleb Ohlemacher caught it and ran home for the go-ahead touchdown.
Up 19-14 at the break, the Warriors would play superb defense for most of the second half, only surrendering points when Central Square drove in the third period to Jamie Battaglia’s one-yard TD plunge and Logan Mooney’s two-point pass to Mike Monica.
Liverpool stayed patient through many missed opportunities. Then, trailing 22-19, it took possession midway through the fourth quarter and put together its most important drive of the season.
Eating up yards and time, the Warriors moved to the Central Square three, from where Jacob Vacco scored the go-ahead TD with 2:34 left and Max Falkner added the extra point.
With one more chance, the Redhawks made a march of its own, but Liverpool’s defense stepped up and, with 35 seconds to play, forced a turnover on downs that clinched the victory.
Instead of an early exit, Liverpool finds itself facing Baldwinsville (who beat Fayetteville-Manlius 24-17) in the sectional AA semifinals for the third time in four years.
That will follow C-NS meeting Corcoran in the first semifinal, a daunting challenge for the 7-1 Cougars, given the way the state no. 6-ranked Northstars dismantled a CBA side that it lost to in last year’s sectional final.
The unstoppable Northstars offense, averaging better than 50 points per game, needed just six plays and 68 yards to get on the board with Conner Hayes’ 25-yard TD run.
Much more was in store, from Erik Pride’s 75-yard scoring dash to Hayes finding Shy’rel Broadwater on a 30-yard scoring pass, which made it 21-0 before the game was eight minutes old.
Things went quiet for a while, but then Pride netted a second TD midway through the second quarter and Hayes found Broadwater again, this time on a 40-yard connection, that made it 35-0 going into halftime.
Not wanting to get left out, the C-NS defense notched points when Omar Mere returned an interception 60 yards for a TD in the third quarter after Pride scored a third time on a one-yard plunge.
Jeremiah Willis, on a 10-yard run, and Gaiden Nelson, on a 13-yard run, got the Northstars’ eighth and ninth touchdowns of the night, and the Northstars could look ahead to Corcoran, who handled Utica Proctor 45-19 in its sectional opener.
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