Football: Shen defense faces big hurdle
Shenendehowa was down by a point late in last Friday’s football game with Bethlehem. A loss would have kept the Plainsmen out of the Section II Class AA tournament, denying them an opportunity to claim a second championship in three years.
“Our guys came through in the clutch, and that gives us some momentum,” said Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson. “Hopefully, it’s the start this team needed. To have a so-called playoff game under your belt, it’s big. The guys know they can win a big football game.”
The Plainsmen had done so early in the season when they knocked off Christian Brothers Academy, but faltered late in two other significant Empire Division games, losing to Guilderland in Week 5 and Saratoga Springs in Week 6.
Shenendehowa grabbed the division’s No. 4 playoff seed with its 21-14 victory over Bethlehem, and earned another go-round with Shaker. The Plainsmen (5-2) and the Blue Bison (6-1), coming off their second second straight sweep of the Liberty Division, tangle tonight in one of the four Class AA quarterfinals.
“We’ve got a little something going. We’re excited to play,” said Clawson.
Tonight’s meeting at Shaker will be the fourth playoff game between the teams in as many years. Shaker secured its first Section II championship at Shenendehowa’s expense last year, 14-0. Shenendehowa used quarterfinal wins over Shaker in 2011 (35-7) and 2010
(48-6) as a springboard toward title games, with the Plainsmen gaining the area flag two years ago in legendary coach Brent Steuerwald’s final campaign.
“Shenendehowa is known as a successful playoff team, and a lot of has to do with coaching,” said Shaker coach Greg Sheeler. “For us to draw them as the No. 4 seed, very dangerous. We know they’re tough. They’re going to be a very difficult opponent.”
While Shaker took charge early in its 49-6 win over Colonie last week, Shenendehowa needed a fourth-quarter spark, and Matt Drum provided it with a 33-yard touchdown reception from Ben Sibson that erased a 14-13 deficit with 1:40 left. Oliver Robinson capped an outstanding offensive performance afterward with a two-point conversion, and Brendan Marra’s interception ended Bethlehem’s final drive.
“The Guilderland game came down to the end, and we didn’t
execute. Last week, we did,” said Clawson. “Our backs were up against the wall, and we needed a big play. Our line blocked well and we got it, and our defense held them off.”
Shenendehowa allowed only one offensive touchdown against Bethlehem, which would have garnered the No. 4 seed had it held on to its 14-13 lead which was forged on Mike Graves’s 98-yard interception return and Spencer Ferrigan’s extra point.
“Our defense played its best game of the season, and we’ll try to build on that,” said Clawson. “We had been giving up a lot of running yards, but our defense got after the ball and tackled well. We forced them into passing situations, and we defended well back there.”
Shaker is hoping to put Shenendehowa in a similar bind with its defense that owns three shutouts and two other times allowed one touchdown.
“Our defense has to limit their first- and second-down run game,” said Sheeler. “If we let them stay on the course they want, they’ll be tough. We want to force them into passing situations.”
Robinson played a significant role for Shenendehowa last week from his fullback spot, rushing for a career-high 154 yards on 24 carries, and also from his middle linebacker position. The junior sustained a concussion midway through Shenendehowa’s 29-22 loss to Guilderland, and sat out when the Plainmen bowed to Saratoga Springs, 33-6.
“When you build a football team, you build from the inside out, and Oliver is the kind of guy you want to have. He’s a warrior. To have him back is a big lift,” said Clawson. “He means a lot to this football team, both as a player and as a leader.”
Sean Egan and Michael Tanu played key roles for Shaker last week when it retained the Town of Colonie Cup, with each running back accounting for a pair of touchdowns as the Blue Bison built a 28-0 halftime advantage.
Egan scored on a 36-yard run, Brandon Safford recovered a fumble, and Tanu scored from five yards away in the first four minutes in what would be Shaker’s third straight win and 16th in 17 games against Section II opponents going back to the 2011 season.
Guilderland dealt Shaker it’s lone defeat this season, 31-28, in overtime.
“Number one, they’re a physical team. Number two, they’re well coached. Number three, they can beat you with the run or the pass. Number four, they play very good defense. They come at you in a lot of ways,” said Clawson. “We’re very familiar with them. They have another great team, but we’ll be ready. The kids are motivated.”
Three of the other four defending Section II champions will play tonight, with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (6-1) hosting Mohonasen (2-5) in a Class A quarterfinal, Hoosick Falls (7-0) hosting Watervliet (4-3) in a Class C game and Rensselaer (6-1) entertaining Warrensburg (3-4) in a Class D quarter.
Sainted Knights done
The Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons/Saratoga Central Catholic football team has concluded its season.
The Sainted Knights were scheduled to play Fort Edward in a crossover game Saturday, but the Flying Forts forfeited due to a lack of players. The Sainted Knights will not play a crossover game the following week.
“They had some academic problems,” Sainted Knights coach John Barber said of Fort Edward. “We were looking into playing the loser of the Whitehall-Cambridge game [in Week 9], but we’re all done.”
The Sainted Knights lost to Hoosic Valley, 38-21, in their final regular-season game Saturday and posted their lone win the Saturday before, 8-7, against Schoburg.
Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons/Saratoga Central Catholic qualified for the Section II Class D playoffs as the South Division No. 4 seed by beating Schoburg, but opted for a crossover game rather than facing North Division No. 1 Greenwich in a move administrators from the schools said was in the best interest of the program and the student-athletes.
“Our quality, numbers-wise, is down. We got a couple kids hurt in the Hoosic Valley game,” said Barber. “I could have fielded a team Saturday with some young kids out there, but after that was called off [Monday], we decided in the last day or two that we’re going to hang it up. We’ll start up in December in the weight room.”
Fort Edward also forfeited a season-starting game with NDBG/SCC when it did not have the required 16 players available. Schoharie also had an opening when Salem couldn’t field a team, so the Sainted Knights and Indian Eagles played a non-league game. Schoburg won, 32-0, and NDBG/SCC evened the score in the rematch.
“We’ve got some things to build on,” said Barber, whose 24-player roster included a mix of 16 juniors, sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders. “I believe we’re moving in the right direction.”