On a happy and productive Friday evening, the Canastota football team secured its spot in the Section III playoffs and Oneida showed that it could bounce back from extreme disappointment with a first-rate effort.
At Sauquoit Valley, the Raiders prevailed by a 34-7 margin, improving to 5-1 overall and 4-0 within the Class C South division - and setting up next weekend's league championship showdown with Westmoreland.
As this was going on, the Indians were busy bashing Skaneateles 48-12, leading from start to finish against a much-improved Laker team that is heading for the playoffs and did boast one of the area's best passing attacks.
Canastota's work at Sauquoit proved that it was focused on the immediate task and not in any way peeking ahead to Westmoreland.
On its first possession, the Raiders went 53 yards in just three plays. Alex Foster's 20-yard run led to Zack Zupan going the final 28 yards for the touchdown that with Jamie Meade's extra point, quickly put Canastota ahead 7-0.
When Canastota got the ball back, it went the big-play route. After a series of runs (including Foster converting a fourth-down sneak), Foster, from Sauquoit's 36, threw deep - and found Richard Mitchell, who completed a 64-yard scoring play.
Sauquoit's Tyler Harris fumbled to spoil a possible TD on a kick return, and the Raiders' defense stopped the Indians on a fourth down at its own 27.
Fired up by that turn of events, Canastota put together another long drive that stalled at Sauquoit's 10. But the Indians fumbled again on the very next play, and it led to Merrell scoring on a seven-yard run.
Carrying a 20-0 lead into halftime, the Raiders, who only gave up 27 total yards in the first two periods, did not let up after the break.
Merrell broke loose for a 29-yard TD run in the third period, breaking two tackles along the way. And fittingly, it was Zupan notching the final points of the night on a one-yard plunge.
Zupan did a lot of hard work on this night. Running behind a big and physical Raider offensive line, Zupan amassed 162 yards on 26 carries, and he also paced Canastota's defense by recording 11 tackles.
Oneida's task against a Skaneateles squad vastly improved in 2010 under first-year head coach Tim Green was to contain the opponent's passing game. A week earlier against Phoenix, Laker quarterback Conor Herr had thrown for six touchdowns.
And it could not have started better. Matt Mosack found Shawn Ano deep for a 53-yard pass less than a minute into the game, and Chris Cheseboro scored from five yards out to push the Indians ahead 7-0.
When the Lakers took over for its first possession deep in its own territory, Oneida's defense was ready. On the third play, Herr threw a floating pass that Chris Morehouse picked off at the Skaneateles 21. Four plays later, P.J. Tayntor scored on a one-yard plunge, the first of his four TD's on the night.
It would stay 13-0 until halftime, Oneida unable to convert on a long second-quarter drive that consumed more than 10 minutes of clock. Early in the third quarter, Ryan Sherman intercepted Mosack deep in Indian territory, and Herr's two-yard scoring pass to Brandon Barron put the Lakers on the board.
That was as close as it would get, though. Each of the next four times Oneida got the ball, it would end up in touchdowns. Two long drives in the third period ended in Tayntor going the final five yards for the score, increasing the margin to 27-6.
Amid all this, Oneida did a superb job containing Herr, holding him to just 108 passing yards on 16-of-37 attempts. No completion went longer than 16 yards.
They forced turnovers, too, as Kyle Armstrong's interception led to Tayntor's fourth TD on a one-yard plunge in the fourth quarter that made it 34-6.
Even when Tyler Mallinder replaced Mosack at quarterback, the Indians kept finding the end zone against a battered Laker defense. Mallinder hit Chesebro on a 17-yard TD pass following a deft scramble, and to provide the last highlight Jimmy Smith returned a kickoff 85 yards for a TD after the second Skaneateles scoring drive.
At 4-2 (2-2 league), Oneida closes the regular season next Saturday by visiting archrival Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, a game that will help sort out who moves on to the Section III Class B playoffs - and who gets left behind.
The Red Devils now have its star quarterback, Tyler Mautner, back in the fold, and he led VVS to a 35-21 win over Holland Patent to keep the teamís playoff fate in its own hands.