Saturday's Class B semifinal football playoff game between the Lackawanna Steelers and Maine-Endwell Spartans at the Carrier Dome amounted to a stare-down.
Maine-Endwell blinked first, allowing Lackawanna to keep its sights set on a second consecutive state championship.
Joe West's 53-yard touchdown reception on a screen pass from Charles Kowalski with 1:16 left in the game was the only scoring as the Steelers handed the Spartans a 6-0 defeat.
Lackawanna, 12-0, returns to the Carrier Dome at noon next Sunday to play for the state title against the winner of Saturday's eastern semifinal game in Troy between Harrison and Ravena.
"Wow, that was some game," Lackawanna coach Bill Moore said after he finally got a chance to catch his breath. "Both teams played very well. They did an excellent job against us and it took a huge effort to win this game."
The Spartans raised more than a few eyebrows with the way they were able to shut down Lackawanna's high-powered offense.
"Their pursuit was the key," Moore said. "They came after us hard and they swarmed to the football. They're a tough team to cut back against and we made some mistakes by trying to do that."
On the touchdown play, the Steelers used Maine-Endwell's aggressive pursuit to their own advantage.
On a third-and-17 from his own 47, Kowalski hit West with a screen pass over the middle. The speedy junior running back ran to his left trying to reach the corner, before receiving a key block from tight end Robert Sireika that sprung him loose.
Once West made his way to the sideline, he outraced a pair of Spartan defenders the rest of the way.
"When I got to the corner, I knew they weren't going to catch me," West said. "Their defense played really well, but they made a mistake and we made them pay for it. Our speed came through again."
Ironically, the Steelers just inserted the middle screen into their game plan this week.
"We scouted them last week and saw that they get a great push into your backfield from the middle of their defensive line, so we thought that play might work," Moore said. "They did a great job of shutting us down, with the exception of that play."
"They're an outstanding team," Maine-Endwell coach Dick Russ said of Lackawanna. "It's a very disappointing loss because you go toe-to-toe with them for more than 46 minutes and they come up with the play that beats you. I'm very proud of our kids."
This game was expected to resemble a track meet, considering the speed of both teams, but a combination of turnovers and strong defensive play made it look more like hand-to-hand combat.
Lackawanna senior running back Wade Turner rushed for 114 yards on 23 carries, but he also fumbled three times. Kowalski was intercepted once.
The lone Spartans turnover set the stage for West's TD. Only two plays after Turner had coughed up the ball at the Maine-Endwell 44, Spartan running back Tom McKenna was stripped of the ball and Lackawanna's Dave Szentesy recovered at the M-E 46. Three plays later, West reached the end zone.
The Steelers dodged a bullet early in the second quarter when an apparent Maine-Endwell touchdown was called back on an illegal substitution penalty.
It looked as if the Spartans tried to sneak wide receiver Matt Schiefen onto the field late. He wound up all alone to the far left side of the offensive formation and quarterback Ryan Carney quickly took the snap and fired a pass to Schiefen in the end zone. But as soon as the ball was snapped, however, the play was whistled dead.