SYRACUSE — The Knights of Northridge had every reason to believe that, hey, maybe this just wasn't going to be their night.
After all, Syracuse scored its first two touchdowns thanks to a blocked punt in the end zone and a bizarre fumble recovery-return on a weird "Where's the whistle?" play that gave the Titans the ball just inches from the goal line, from where they subsequently punched it in.
What's more, Northridge coughed up the football four times inside the Syracuse 40-yard line, costly drive-killing miscues that might have discouraged lesser young men.
But not these Knights. No, they were determined to make it their "Knight" of glory and they did, coming away with a gritty 28-25 Region 1 road win that spoiled the Syracuse homecoming festivities Friday evening.
"We've got some kids that fight," said Northridge head coach Erik Thompson, whose team improved to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in league play. "We were fortunate because we had everything that could go wrong, and we felt like Lady Luck was against us. "... It really starts with my quarterback (senior Karson Casteel). He's coming to me and he's telling me, 'Hey, we're fine, coach. I'm gonna go get 'em. I'm gonna run this play, this play and that play,' and every play he's calling is working.
"Some leaders definitely stepped up today, and that's one for the ages where if anything bad could happen, it happened to us," Thompson said. "We decided as a staff, once we came in at halftime, if we're gonna go down, we're not gonna come out here and play conservative. We're gonna take some shots. ... There was a lot of drawing stuff up in the dirt.
"More than anything, I don't know how we won that game other than just kids fightin' and a lot of leaders making plays."
Casteel threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, and he ran for another TD, while junior running back David Adams sparked the Knights' offense with 266 combined rushing-receiving yards and a couple of touchdowns — one on the ground on an 8-yard burst and one through the air on a 71-yard bomb.
All of this against a Syracuse defense which hadn't given up more than 14 points in a game all season and was allowing less than 10 points per game.
"There's something special about him," Thompson said of Adams. "Sometimes you get some bad with him with the fumbles and those kinds of things, but he always comes to me and says, 'I'll get it back coach,' and he's managed to do it for seven games now, so I trust he will."
Adams also caught a gutsy third-down screen pass late in the fourth quarter and took it 67 yards deep into Syracuse territory. The Knights failed to score on that drive, but ran a lot of valuable time off the clock and forced the Titans to start their last-gasp drive at their own 8-yard line.
"The whole game, I was telling Thompson, 'Hey, we ought to run that play, we ought to run that play,'" Adams said of the key screen pass on 3rd-and-5 deep in Northridge territory, "and at the right time, he ran it. It was a good call by coach Thompson."
Syracuse (5-2, 1-2) was nearly equal to the task, too, as the Titans' hurry-up offense got as far as the Northridge 29 in a frantic final minute before the Knights' defense smothered Brock Anderson's potential game-tying field goal try on the game's last play.
Northridge built a 14-0 lead in first quarter on Adams' 8-yard TD run and a 65-yard scoring strike from Casteel to Jaeger Allred. But Syracuse cut the gap to 14-10 at halftime, as Alex Vanderloo recovered a blocked Northridge punt in the Knights' end zone, and Anderson drilled a 25-yard field on the last play before halftime.
Syracuse grabbed a 17-14 lead when Corey Cook came out of a scrum with the ball following a Northridge fumble and rumbled all the way inside the Knights' 1 on a bizarre play, setting up a short scoring plunge by Trevor Davis.
Adams regained the lead for Northridge with his 71-yard TD pass from Casteel, who later made it 28-17 with a 3-yard scoring run of his own.
But Syracuse again battled back when Davis hit Matt Dunston with a 5-yard scoring pass, then threw to Diante Mitchell for the two-point conversion that cut the deficit to 28-25 with 3:24 remaining to play.