If the Christian Brothers Academy football team wanted to demonstrate that it could handle the big event and a big-name opponent, then it could not have picked a better setting.
Here were the Brothers, going east to face Rome Free Academy Friday night, and doing so on an evening where RFA dedicated its field to long-time head coach Tom Hoke, who won 210 games and whose teams dominated large-school football in Central New York in the 1980s and '90s.
Despite that pageantry, and despite a large and hostile crowd, CBA came through once more, as an all-out effort, especially on defense, helped create a 14-7 victory over the Black Knights.
That win helped the Brothers, no. 14 in the latest state Class AA rankings, improve to 6-0 - and it sets up next Friday's Class AA-1 division championship showdown with 6-0 Baldwinsville at Pelcher-Arcaro Stadium.
At the least, CBA will go to B'ville feeling quite confident about its defense. All the Brothers did at RFA was hold the Black Knights to a scant 61 yards in the first three quarters - and it needed to be that good.
That was because the Brothers kept falling short on scoring drives. Time after time, CBA drove into RFA territory, only to have something go wrong, allowing the Black Knights to hang close much of the night.
CBA caught some breaks, too, especially late in the first quarter when RFA's Anthony D'Urso returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown - only to have it called back on an illegal block penalty that the Black Knights vehemently protested.
Another break came when RFA fumbled at its own 37-yard line in the second quarter. The Brothers recovered and, moments later, Tyler Hamblin scrambled right, threw deep and found Evan Adamo open in the end zone for the only touchdown of the first half.
Just before halftime, CBA nearly added to the margin, driving to RFA's one-yard line before the hosts made a goal-line stand, then blocked Riley Dixon's field-goal attempt.
That frustration continued in the third quarter. Twice, the Brothers moved inside the Black Knights' 30-yard line. Both times, RFA made fourth-down stops, so it remained 7-0 going into the final period.
CBA stayed cool and poised, though, as its defense kept making quick stops to give Hamblin another chance to move his team down the field.
Finishing with 192 passing yards(on 17-for-27 attempts) and 92 yards on the ground, Hamblin broke the stalemate when he ran nine yards for what proved to be the winning touchdown with just 7:01 left. Dixon's extra point made it 14-0.
RFA didn't give up, though, finally moving the ball down the field in the closing minutes. Kyle Hash found Richard Stapleton on a five-yard scoring pass with 1:48 to play, but the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, and CBA ran out the clock.
All this leads to Baldwinsville, a team CBA lost to twice in 2009 - once in a September shootout at Alibrandi Stadium, then again in the Section III Class AA final when a halftime lead slipped away.
The Brothers' defensive challenge is obvious - stop a B'ville attack that has churned up 247 points in six wins, an average of better than 40 points per game.
Most of it is due to a ferocious ground game, with sophomore sensation Tyler Rouse (1,326 yards, 18 touchdowns) running behind a massive offensive line that also protects quarterback Casey Colligan, who has thrown five TD passes in the last two weeks.
Win or lose, CBA is guaranteed a first-round home playoff game at Alibrandi, likely against Corcoran or Utica Proctor.