When senior Marquis Coleman returned a kickoff 73 yards for a touchdown to open the second half and give Poly a 12-0 advantage over City on Saturday, the feeling of an Engineers win was palpable.
To everyone but the Knights.
City proceeded to reel off 22 unanswered points and cruised to a 22-12 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
Poly leads the 126-year-old rivalry with a 62-58-6 record, but the Knights collected their third straight victory in the series and clinched one of four berths in the Class 3A East region playoffs.
But this win was especially meaningful for City as the team overcame a two-touchdown deficit to an archrival.
Even after Coleman's touchdown return, junior quarterback Na'Shon Godfrey said the Knights did not panic.
"We knew in the back of our minds that we could not let that defeat us," he said. "We knew in the back of our minds that if we did, the game was over. In our minds, we knew we had this."
City responded to Coleman's score with an eight-play, 80-yard drive that ended when Godfrey waltzed into the end zone from the 1-yard line with 8:43 left in the third quarter. Godfrey connected with freshman fullback Keon Moore to convert the ensuing 2-point opportunity.
Coach George Petrides said that possession was critical to the Knights' comeback.
"We hadn't scored until that point," he said. "It looked like we had worn them out. Then we got some momentum."
After the Engineers went three-and-out, the Knights needed just two plays to take the lead. On the second play of the series, Godfrey found and delivered to senior wide receiver Julius Harvey on a corner route to the left half of the end zone. Godfrey ran in the 2-point conversion to take a 16-12 lead.
Harvey made a great read on the play as he initially looked over his right shoulder before turning his head to the left and catching the ball.
"When I was looking at the ball in the air, it looked like it was going inside," he said. "But it started going outside, and I just made the adjustment."
In the fourth quarter, Harvey intercepted a pass from Coleman at City's 45, and junior running back Michael Welborn Jr. took the ensuing handoff 55 yards for a touchdown with 4:23 left in regulation.
After gaining just 42 yards and two first downs in the first half, the Knights rolled up 243 yards and 10 first downs in the last two quarters. Petrides said the key was going to a spread offense.
"We went to more of a spread formation, and we ran it at them a little more," he said. "We were doing too much running from side-to-side in the first half."
Welborn said the spread formation opened up running lanes in the middle of the Poly defense.
"Their linebackers and ends were crashing down from the outside," he said. "We had to get up between the tight ends and tackles."
Godfrey finished the game completing 7 of 15 passes for 135 yards and one touchdown. Welborn gained 96 yards and a score on 12 carries, and Harvey caught four balls for 90 yards and one touchdown.
While City's offense exploded in the second half, Poly's came to a sudden halt in the same frame.
After collecting 139 yards of offense and seven first downs in the first two quarters, the Engineers could only manage 19 yards and one first down in the second half.
The problem was the absence of senior quarterback John Steele, who left in the second period because of a left shoulder injury and wore a sling on the sideline.
Without Steele, who had connected on 2 of 6 passes for 21 yards and carried the ball twice for 19 yards, Coleman and junior Jared Mantegna combined to complete 2 of 9 passes for 28 yards and two interceptions.
"We tried our best, but with John going down, our offense struggled," Poly coach Dwayne Green said. "We started the second half scoring, but our offense could not hit their stride in the second half."