Both the Liverpool and Cicero-North Syracuse football teams went into the next-to-last weekend of the regular season still harboring playoff hopes.
Only the Warriors would capitalize on those chances, though, going to Nottingham and needing a big fourth quarter to oust the Bulldogs 35-21 and secure its spot in the post-season.
As this was going on, the Northstars were at Bragman Stadium, watching undefeated, state no. 3-ranked Baldwinsville put on another gridiron clinic in a 43-20 defeat that dropped CNS to 1-5 on the season.
Liverpool went to Nottingham fresh off beating CNS for the 'Star Wars' Cup for the third year in a row, and perhaps the team suffered a letdown, as the early play against the Bulldogs showed.
Unable to score in the first quarter, the Warriors watched as Nottingham took a 6-0 lead with a smart scoring drive and quarterback Marty Clanton scrambling six yards for the touchdown.
Only in the second period did Liverpool start to stir on offense. On back-to-back drives, the Warriors mixed up runs and passes in an effective manner, both times reaching the end zone as fullback Josh Withrow score on a five-yard run and one-yard plunge. Connor Rogers made both extra points, and Liverpool led 14-6 going into the break.
Still, Nottingham persevered and, in the third period, pulled back even with a drive that led to Clanton going two yards for his second TD of the night. When Clanton threw to Charles Gary in the end zone for two points, they were tied, 14-14, going to the final period.
Early in the fourth quarter, the exchange continued. Luigi Barletta threw a 21-yard TD pass to Jaheem Hogan, but Liverpool missed the conversion. Nottingham countered with its own drive, Jamar Adams going the final 29 yards for the score and Josh Feldman making the go-ahead extra point.
Now trailing 21-20, Liverpool found itself on its own 24-yard line. Barletta decided to throw deep - and he found Zavon Watkins, the speedy receiver finishing off a 76-yard scoring play that, with Tyland Thompson's two-point run, pushed the Warriors ahead for good.
To clinch it, Withrow went 20 yards for his third touchdown in the final minutes. Both Withrow and Thompson had productive nights as Thompson carried the ball 28 times for 150 yards.
As Liverpool went home with a playoff berth in hand, CNS was at home, still reeling from what defending Class AA champion Baldwinsville had done to them, especially in the second quarter.
B'ville had gone ahead 6-0 in the opening period on Casey Colligan's 26-yard TD pass to Augie Zona. And it was 13-0 when, early in that crucial second quarter, the Northstars got on the board with Corey Scanlon's five-yard run and Steve Messur's extra point.
Then it all fell apart, as B'ville notched 21 unanswered points to make it 34-7 at halftime. The main culprit was Tyler Rouse, the Bees' spectacular sophomore tailback whose 297 yards on the night gave him 1,326 yards for the season.
Twice in that stretch, Rouse, who already had a 14-yard TD run in that period, broke through and around the CNS defense on long scoring runs - one covering 66 yards, the other going 41 yards. To cap it off, Colligan found Zona again for a 21-yard scoring pass just before halftime.
CNS would eat into that margin in the fourth quarter, Branden Lacey scoring on a five-yard run and Matt Ryle converting from six yards out. But a trio of Mark Stanard field goals wrapped it up for the Bees, who duel with fellow unbeaten CBA next weekend for the Class AA-1 regular-season title.
The Northstars' regular season concludes next Friday at Bragman Stadium against Central Square, who is 0-6. As for Liverpool, winners of three in a row after an 0-3 start, it has to visit 6-0 Fayetteville-Manlius (who just secured the Class AA-2 division title), a team it could face again on that same field a week later in the opening round of the AA playoffs.