Small school football preview: Early-season schedule will test veteran Sabres
Schalmont comes into the football season with a lengthy Section II winning streak, and a target that’s even bigger than before.
“Teams are going to bring their best game to us. We’re in a position now to be that guy instead of being at the opposite end,” Sabres coach Joe Whipple said. “Everyone is fighting to be the big headline in the newspaper.”
Schalmont has made several of them during its greatest stretch as a program, with four straight Class B West Division championships and three consecutive Section II titles. The Sabres beat Albany Academy in overtime to extend that sectional streak last fall, when its area winning skein reached 28 games.
“It means something to the guys, but in the long run, we’re playing for games at the end of the year,” said Whipple. “If we stay healthy, I think we can compete for another sectional championship.”
Schalmont has an extremely difficult early-season schedule, opening at home with Class B newcomer Glens Falls before traveling to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and then entertaining Schuylerville. Joining Schalmont, Glens Falls and Schuylerville in the West Division are Broadalbin-Perth, Cobleskill-Richmondville, Hudson Falls and Johnstown.
“We want to finish strong. That’s all that matters,” said Whipple. “With our division and throw Burnt Hills in the mix, we’ve got a tough road ahead of us. If we lose one or two games in the beginning, I can live with that as long as we learn from it, get better and end up where we want to be.”
The Schalmont at Burnt Hills non-league game is one of the most-anticipated contests scheduled for the early weeks of the Section II season. Burnt Hills has won four straight Section II Class A titles, and has played in three of the last four state finals. Schalmont was a state finalist in 2010, and a state semifinalist last fall and in 2009.
“Burnt Hills wanted to have a good game and they chose us to play. That’s an honor. That’s a class-act program, and we’re excited to play them. We’re going to give it our all for four quarters,” said Whipple, before adding. “If any game is going to show our weaknesses, it’s that game, and we’re going to use it as a measuring stick to see where we need to be at the end of the year.”
Schalmont begins the year with two key faces in new places, as all-state first-team junior Devon Willis shifts from tailback to quarterback, and sophomore Nick Gallo moves from linebacker to safety. They’ll join a mix of returning starters, as well as several varsity backups from last year and a handful of newcomers. Senior receiver Dom Caputo, Schalmont’s leading scorer in basketball, is among them.
“The ingredients are there,” said Whipple. “I hope it cooks well.”
The Sabres’ most experienced group will fill the trenches, as linemen Mike Famolaro, Jesse Ross, Marcus Ramundo and Tyler Mattick all return. Hunter Gac has earned the tailback job and Gallo, Kyle Strube and Chas Higgins will rotate at wingback, from where graduated West Division Player of the Year Alex Hildebrand did plenty of offensive damage.
“Every year it gets tougher and tougher,” said Whipple, whose first three Schalmont teams went 9-3, 12-1 and 11-1. “We don’t change a lot, and people have got a lot of film on us.”
Glens Falls is one of three teams that has joined the Class B league. Green Tech’s second-year varsity, with new coach Travis Wood, and Lansingburgh have dropped from Class A and move into the Reinfurt Division.
“You’re putting a team in each division that could end up winning it,” said Albany Academy coach Tony Fruscio. “Lansingburgh is the preseason favorite on our side, with us and Ravena right behind. Glens Falls had one of the best sophomore classes, and now they’re seniors. Glens Falls is going to be a tough out on the other side.”
“We’re battle-tested, but by no means are we coming in thinking it’s going to be easy,” said Glens Falls coach Pat Lilac. “There are good players in Class B and a lot of good coaches.”
Glens Falls finished below .500 in four of the last five seasons, going 4-5 last year.
“When we played Amsterdam, Troy and Burnt Bills, we thought we had good teams and could stick around, but we got worn down,” said Lilac, who has a roster of 26. “With the size of the schools we’ll see now, the weardown shouldn’t affect us as much.”
Glens Falls is led by six three-year varsity players, including quarterback Cam Girard, running back Mike LaNoir and lineman Sam Sax.
“Both divisions have become more challenging, with Glens Falls on our side and Lansingburgh on the other side,” said Whipple. “They won some pretty good games in the ‘A’s.’ There’s a lot of talent there.”
In Anthony Walker and Jake Connally, Lansingburgh has one of the league’s premier runners and one of its most devastating blockers. Among the best stoppers is Albany Academy linebacker Ian Bennett, a four-year starter and one of the centerpieces on the Cadets’ Reinfurt Division-winning team in 2011.
“We’ve got the kind of experience that maybe some teams don’t,” said Fruscio. “When you’ve got guys like Ian who have played for three, four years, it goes a long way.”
The Cadets’ veteran cast includes two-way lineman Alex Buchanan, running back Austin Zeh, receiver David Bryce and wingback Darrien White. Bennett moves from guard to the other wing.
“We may not be the favorite, but we’ll show up, and teams will have to play well to beat us,” said Fruscio. “We’re as complete a team as we’ve been in a while.”
Eric Woods takes over for Daily Gazette All-Area quarterback Conner Hartigan. Hartigan provided Section II with one of its lead stories last year when he replaced injured quarterback Hunter
McCarthy in Week 1 and went on to score 29 touchdowns while rushing for 1,671 yards.
Cohoes, Hudson and Ichabod Crane round out the Reinfurt Division.
Low player numbers forced Cairo-Durham to call off its varsity season for the second year in a row, leaving the Class C South Division with six teams.
“We couldn’t get enough seniors to sign up,” said Cairo-Durham coach George Pooters. “If I could have gotten 11 juniors and 11 seniors, I would have stuck with it.”
Cairo-Durham will field a 22-player junior varsity team.
“We’re trying to build from there. We hope to have a sucessful JV season so we can draw some interest and maybe pick up some extra kids for next year. Our goal is to field a varsity team next year.”
Cairo-Durham went 4-32 from its first varsity season in 2007 through 2010. Like last year, the school’s late decision to call off its season left some teams with a hole in their schedule.
“This is two years in a row for us. It bothers you a little because the kids are missing out,” said Fonda-Fultonville coach Tom Carpenter, whose Braves now have an open date in Week 2. “[Wally] Kowalski came up 71 yards short of the school rushing record last year. If we play that game, maybe he gets it.”
Kowalski, quarterback Kody Shaw, receiver Jarett Ladd and several other skill-position players have graduated from Fonda-Fultonville’s South Division title-winning team that went 8-0 before a loss to Hoosick Falls in the Class C Super Bowl.
“We’re going to be OK up front. We’ve got four of our five offensive linemen back and three of our four defensive linemen back,” said Carpenter. “Our skill guys are good athletes, but they’re inexperienced. As coaches, we have to remember that.”
All-state third-teamer Tyler Cranker will lead the offensive line group from a tackle spot. The junior will also get the call at defensive end, joining returnees Will Turner, Eric Moyer and Dom Neri.
Chatham, Coxsackie-Athens, Taconic Hills, Voorheesville and Watervliet round out the South Division.
Hoosick Falls brings a 30-game winning streak against Section II opponents into the season. The three-time defending Section II champion features all-state third-teamer Brad Burns at running back and linebacker. Quarterback Billy Pine is also back to lead an offense that put up over 50 points seven times last season.
Stillwater, with standout running back Liam Kane, Corinth, Granville, Tamarac and Mechanicville join Hoosick Falls in the North Division.
“We feel we’re on the upswing,” said Mechanicville coach Kevin Collins, whose Red Raiders ended a non-playoff 2011 season at 5-4 after wins Johnstown and Voorheesville. “Our seniors laid the groundwork, and we want to build on that.”
Mechanicville has its core group back led by quarterback Sal Cimino and linebacker Nate Hatalsky, and a new offense, the flexbone triple option. Adam Dunn and Adam Erno will play the wings, while Hatalsky moves from center to tight end.
“We messed with it a little last year, and felt it was time. We handed out the playbooks in January,” said Collins. “This is the best offense for the kids we have now and for the kids we have coming up.”
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons opened its 2011 season against Cambridge and Rensselaer, and came away with a pair of defeats and plenty of bumps.
“It’s nice not to have those teams back-to-back to start. That made for a difficult start,” said ND-BG coach Tom Pallas. “Even though we hung in there, we got beat up, and that’s something we had to deal with the rest of the season.”
The Golden Knights open at Class D newcomer Hoosic Valley before games with Fort Edward and Warrensburg. Another new entrant to the Class D group, Canajoharie, comes next.
“Hoosic Valley struggled in the past at the Class C level, and they’ll be looking to get a win the first week out. We’re looking for the same thing,” said Pallas. “That first week can set the tone for the rest of the year.”
The Golden Knights are looking to move up after consecutive two-win seasons, one of last year’s victories coming by forfeit when Saratoga Catholic did not have enough available players. The Knights went 6-3 under Pallas in 2009 and 6-3 in Whipple’s final season there in 2008.
“I’m optimistic about this group,” said Pallas, who has 21 players, including Schenectady senior transfer Chris Krause and promising freshman Kevan Mooney. “They have a good attitude, and I think they’ve learned some things in the first couple of weeks.”
Bishop Gibbons’ veteran cast includes senior linemen Nick Ferraro and Kenny Draper, and sophomore running backs Brendan Maloney and Jaylen McIntyre. McIntyre and Cambridge quarterback Ethan English were two of the top Class D impact freshman last season.
“We’re always up against it. We’re one of the smaller schools and we’re always a little short here and there, but we show up each week and try to put our best foot foward,” said Pallas. “I think we’ve represented ourselves pretty well over the last few years.”
Greenwich has also joined the Class D group, and Saratoga Catholic is not fielding a varsity team. The 12-team, small-school league will consist of two divisions.
Cambridge swept through the Class D regular season in 2011 and 2010 and claimed Section II titles both times by beating Rensselaer, while the Rams were the top Class D team the two years before. Both Cambridge and Rensselaer are in the South Division with Greenwich, Catholic Central, Canajoharie and Bishop Gibbons.
Hoosic Valley’s 7-year-old varsity joins Fort Edward, Lake George, Salem, Warrensburg and Whitehall in the North Division. Whitehall features running back Josh Hoagland, the 2011 Class D Offensive Player of the Year.