School football: Sabres certain to test mettle of 0-1 Spartans
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s re-sponse to a Week 2 loss at Amsterdam last year came in the form of a 10-game winning streak that vaulted the Spartans into the state Class A championship game.
What will the response be this time, after last Friday’s season-opening loss at Troy?
“One thing I know is they’re going to play hard,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said in anticipation of tonight’s non-league home game against Schalmont. “There won’t be a lack of effort on our end. The effort was there last week.”
The results did not match the energy on Troy’s turf field, though, as Burnt Hills lost to a Section II opponent for only the second time in 41 games, 17-7. Burnt Hills managed just one touchdown in that setback at Amsterdam last year, too.
“We need to be able to put three stages together, and do it consistently,” said Shell. “Our defense played well [against Troy]. Our kicking game was solid. Offensively, we had the same number of opportunities as they did, but we didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Burnt Hills scored its only touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a pass from Ryan McDonnell to Josh Quesada. Earlier, two turnovers led to Troy touchdowns, and the Spartans had a touchdown erased on one of several untimely penalties.
“Watching film, we did a lot of good things. We’d get a little momentum going, and then we’d have a setback. You can’t do that against good teams,” said Shell. “We had a lot of penalties and some other things happened.”
Burnt Hills will be intent on making good things happen in its home opener, something Schalmont coach Joe Whipple is well aware of.
“This is an opportunity to play an outstanding team, and no question, it’s going to be a hard four quarters,” he said. “We’ll face some adversity. We’re going to see who we really are. I’m looking forward to see how we answer.”
Whipple believes the game can only benefit his Sabres, who are in search of a fourth consecutive Section II Class B title.
“I feel like we’re in a win-win situation,” he said. “Whatever we get out of it, win or lose, we’re going to learn from it. By playing a team like Burnt Hills, we’ll see what we need to work on so when we play those real tough teams at the end of the season, we’ll be prepared.
“For us, this is a special game. We’re excited for the challenge, and excited to play a class-act program that we’ve modeled ours after.”
Burnt Hills’ bounce-back performance last fall included wins over Class AA schools Schenectady and Shaker in consecutive weeks, and playoff victories later against Troy and Amsterdam. Burnt Hills swept through 10 Section II opponents in each of the three seasons before last year, and made state final appearances as part of its 2008 and 2009 runs.
“It’s easy to get down on yourself, but the thing the kids can’t forget is that they’ve played excellent football teams, and beaten excellent football teams,” Shell said of his veteran cast that includes all-state lineman Nick Marchesiello, running back Dan Porter and versatile Eric Dillon. “It’s in their ability. They’ve had their fair share of success.”
Schalmont has had success, as well, with those multiple sectional crowns and a 29-game area winning streak among its credentials. Schalmont extended its streak with a 41-16 triumph over Glens Falls last week in a game that saw the Sabres outscore the Indians, 29-0, over the last three quarters.
“Look at the numbers, and you don’t see everything. We need to clean up our act and the guys know it,” said Whipple. “We want to progress as the season moves along. We want to eliminate the turnovers and get better with our passing attack. This game is another opportunity for us to try to do that.”
Tailback-turned-quarterback Devon Willis sparked Schalmont last week with a school-record 352 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The 2011 first-team all-stater scored on a 60-yard dash, and also had a pair of two-point conversions.
“Their offense comes with a lot of misdirection and a lot of reads from the quarterback, and that puts you in a tough bind, but it’s not just him,” Shell said. “He’s very talented, but they’ve got a really big offensive line and other skill kids that complement him very well. They’re not a one-man show.”
Running backs Nick Gallo and Chas Higgins join receiver Dom Caputo and Willis to give Schalmont a potent punch. Gallo ran for 149 yards and two touchdowns in the win over Glens Falls.
“You start focusing on one thing and they’ve got other guys who can hurt you,” Shell said. “It’s going to take a big effort to keep their offense under control. We’ve got to come off blocks, pursue the football and tackle.”
Schalmont will also be looking for a strong defensive performance against a Burnt Hills group that’s anxious to make amends.
“Burnt Hills runs their stuff very well. We need to be disciplined and not make mistakes, and believe in what we’re doing,” Whipple said. “If they drive on us, say ‘OK,’ deal with it, and make the next play.”
Schalmont did just that against Glens Falls after falling behind, 8-0 and 16-6, on a pair of long touchdown passes by Cam Girard.
“Besides the two big plays, the kids played well,” said Whipple. “The kids came off the field and said, ‘This is what happened,’ and we corrected some things. The football IQs on this team are pretty high.”
Schenectady and Scotia-Glenville will be among the other teams looking for a better outcome tonight after the Patriots lost to Columbia, 32-31, and the Tartans bowed to Lansingburgh, 36-35, in their season debuts. Both the Patriots and the Tartans rallied before missing late two-point conversions. Schenectady plays at Ballston Spa, and Scotia-Glenville travels to Gloversville.
“We showed how good a football team we can be,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer, whose Patriots came back from a 26-6 fourth-quarter deficit to pull within one. “We have some weapons.”
Schenectady junior Felix Rodriguez returned the game’s opening kickoff for a touchdown and caught three scoring passes from Kwame Jarvis in the fourth period covering 13, 10 and 10 yards, with his last TD grab making it 32-31.
Schenectady’s rushing leader in 2011 touched the ball only four times before his late TD outburst. After his 93-yard kickoff return, he carried on the Pats’ first play from scrimmage, on the last play of the third quarter and again early in the fourth quarter, totaling seven yards.
“He couldn’t get it [hamstring] loose,” Kramer said. “Our trainer worked on him and got him ready to play for us, and he showed what kind of a player he is.”
A couple of rivalry games on tonight’s schedule have Colonie at Shaker (Town of Colonie Cup) and Troy at LaSalle (Collar City Cup). Troy has strung together 23 straight regular-season wins going back to 2008.