The Saratoga Springs football team is off to a 3-0 start for the first time since the 2003 season, and its last two victories, against Bethlehem and Christian Brothers Academy, were never in doubt.
“There have been a couple of keys,” said Blue Streaks second-year coach Terry Jones. “Offensively, we’ve been able to get on teams early, and defensively, we’ve been shutting down a key player or two on the other team.
“The kids have done a great job of doing those things.”
That’s the game plan tonight when the Blue Streaks renew their longtime rivalry with Shenendehowa in a Class AA game at Steuerwald Stadium matching the Liberty Division’s only remaining unbeaten teams.
The Blue Streaks will attempt to do so with their run-by-committee offense that has helped them average over 38 points, and a defense that has surrendered only 20 points, and six over the last two weeks.
Their three-week run has them ranked No. 20 in the state, and one victory away from equaling last year’s total.
“This game presents a major challenge for us,” said Shenendehowa coach Brent Steuerwald. “They’re senior-oriented, they have size and they’re riding an early surge of success that we’ll have to match.”
Shenendehowa (2-0, 2-1) is on a mini-roll of its own, showing victories over Albany (56-30) and Guilderland (33-23) since a season-opening 36-7 setback at Schenectady. The Plainsmen — with only 14 seniors — will be attempting to build on that in their homecoming game before a live television audience.
“I mentioned to the kids that there’s going to be a lot going on. It’s their homecoming. It’s their first home game. To some people, it’s the biggest rivalry in Section II,” said Jones. “What we’ve tried to do is downplay it. We don’t want the kids to get caught up in all of that. We want them to approach it like another game, and go out and do what we do.”
For one, that’s run the football with a cast featuring quarterback Colin Mulholland, tailbacks Tony DeLoatch, Leejay Pollacchi and Ben Cook, and fullbacks Ford Plowman and Hunter Hinds. They’ll operate behind linemen Harrison Kim, Eric Hayden, Khalid Elsawi, 6-foot-6, 315-pound Adhem Elsawi and Dave Schewe, and tight end Will Dryer.
Saratoga has piled up 839 rushing yards, gaining 279 last week against CBA, and has passed for 177 in beating Ballston Spa (27-14), Bethlehem (41-0) and the Brothers (48-6).
“Their running game is why they are where they are right now,” said Steuerwald. “It’s somewhat simplistic. Not a great deal of variety, but what they do, they do very well. It will be a challenge to handle what they throw at us.”
Cook ran for two touchdowns last week while Plowman, Pollacchi and Mulholland ran for one apiece. Mulholland also hit Dryer with a scoring pass, and DeLoatch reached the end zone on a 90-yard kickoff return.
“Our line has done a great job. I tell them
every week, ‘The line wins games or loses games. They determine the outcome,’” Jones said. “It starts with them.”
Shenendehowa also features a big, veteran offensive line group led by seniors Adam Geleta, Stephen Brown, David Bell and Peter White. Tailback Suhayb Banks has been the main beneficiary of their work, with three straight 100-plus yard rushing efforts and 10 touchdowns. Banks tied a school record with five TDs against
Albany, and tacked on four more last week, including the game’s last two as Shenendehowa came back from a 23-19 deficit in the final minutes.
“They get the ball to a few other kids, but he’s [Banks] a big concern of ours,” said Jones, whose defense is led by Pollacchi, a linebacker. “We have to be very good up front, defensively. We can’t let him get out in the open field.”
Shenendehowa will attack Saratoga with its power-I offense, which will be directed by quarterback Andrew Kalish and also include promishing sophomore Bronson Greene.
“It’s a very difficult offense to try to simulate in practice,” Jones said. “Factor in the size of their line and their experience, and their talented backs, and it can present some big problems.”
Saratoga was not able to contain Shenendehowa last year, with the Plainsmen rolling to a 35-7 win, and increasing their series lead against the Blue Streak to 23-10 going back to 1979. Saratoga won the 2006 meeting, also by a 35-7 score.
“We’ve had some great games with Saratoga over the years,” said Steuerwald. “I would be surprised it it was a runaway like the Schenectady game. We had juniors on the field for the first time against a very experienced team. Now we’ve got a few games under our belt.”
pats at nfa
State-ranked Class AA teams collide at Newburgh Free Academy tonight, with Schenectady meeting the Goldbacks of Section IX on their turf field.
Schenectady and NFA are both 3-0, with the Patriots ranked No. 15 in the state and the Goldbacks checking in at No. 17. Schenectady has beaten Shenendehowa (36-7), Colonie (52-14) and Niskayuna (64-42), with those 64 points representing a school record. The Goldbacks owns victories over Shaker (35-10), Middletown (32-8) and Washingtonville (35-0).
“We’re going there with a lot of confidence. We have no fear. No doubts,” said Schenectady coach Carm DePoalo. “We’re going down there to win, not as a yardstick.”
Schenectady can set a team record for consecutive wins to begin a season, and will be looking for its fifth in a row overall against an NFA program that won five Section IX titles from 1997-2003. Newburgh Free Academy went 5-4 last year, as did the Pats, and both brought back a wealth of experienced and talented players.
“We’ve got great athletes. They’ve got great athletes,” DePoalo said. “It should be a real donnybrook.”
Schenectady will be facing a multiple-set offense, though NFA is expected to show plenty of wing-T. That’s something Schenectady’s defense has yet to see.
“We’ve shored up some things on defense,” DePoalo said. “They’ll run the ball, but they can go vertical, too. We’ve got to be more physical with them and find a way to contain them.”
Schenectady quarterback Nick Ottati threw four touchdown passes and ran for another last week at Niskayuna, while tailback Marc Thompson produced four TDs and rushed for 151 yards. Newburgh scored on three pass plays, a long run by Byron Thomas and an interception return in its win over Washingtonville.