No. 1 seed on the line tonight

Just how will Schenectady’s unbeaten football team deal with the challenges that are certain to be p

Just how will Schenectady’s unbeaten football team deal with the challenges that are certain to be presented in tonight’s Class AA Liberty Division showdown with LaSalle at Larry Mulvaney Field?

“That’s my biggest concern. How are they going to handle it?” Patriots coach Carm DePoalo said of the most significant regular-

season game in the program’s 21-year history. “Last week, we fought back. The week before, we held off Newburgh Free Academy, but this is bigger.

“This is for all the marbles. This is for the No. 1 seed [in the playoffs] and the division.”

Schenectady (3-0, 5-0) has never attained those prizes, while LaSalle (3-0, 4-1) has accumulated scores of honors and championships. The Cadets have won two of the last three Section II Class AA titles, and several prominent players from last year’s superb run will factor into tonight’s equation.

“That’s a big advantage for their kids. LaSalle has been there, and we have not,” DePoalo said. “I’m hoping our hunger evens that out.”

“Our kids know that if they get down, they can respond. We’ve proven that over the years,” said LaSalle coach Al Rapp. “We’ve always been a good fourth-quarter team. We proved that against Guilderland.”

LaSalle struck for four touchdowns over the final 10 minutes to beat Guilderland, 28-17, in the 2007 Super Bowl. That was one of 16 straight wins against Section II opponents the Cadets have accum­ulated. That streak also includes last year’s 61-37 rout of Schenec­tady, a game in which running back Marquis Terrell erupted for seven touchdowns and 365 yards, both school records.

“My guys are confident, but they know what’s in front of them, and that’s a great team,” said DePoalo. “We respect them, but we don’t fear them. Our advantage is we have been tested. We’ve played in close games and won them. They’ve only been in one, against Niskayuna.”

Schenectady rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to beat Niskayuna (64-42) in Week 3, and raced to a three-touchdown lead before holding of Newburgh Free Academy (21-19) in Week 4. The Patriots both rallied and held on in their homecoming game last Friday against Columbia, coming back from deficits of 14-0 and 22-19 before Anthony Cooper sealed the 26-22 victory with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions.

“Last week, they got down and came right back. They showed poise and character,” Rapp said of Schenectady, which has moved up to No. 11 in the state large-school rankings. “Carm has got them believing and playing good football.”

Quarterback Nick Ottati ran 10 yards for the winning touchdown last week, and hooked up with

Cooper for another. Running back Marc Thompson scored twice while turning in his fourth straight 100-plus yard game, finishing with 165.

“We know we have the weapons to do it,” said Ottati, who has thrown 13 touchdown passes. “We have one of the better running backs in the state. We have

Cooper out wide and [6-foot-4 Marcus] Brandon at tight end, and we have a line that can move people.”

“We don’t have athletes across the board like they have, but we’ve got good kids who can play,” said Rapp. “I’m expecting an extremely hard-fought game. Part of me says it’s going to be high-scoring. Another part says it’s going to be a defensive game. It’s hard to say.”

LaSalle’s only loss came in Week 3 at Monroe-Woodbury, the 2007 state Class AA runner-up, 26-7. The Cadets bounced back with wins over Christian Brothers Academy (48-6) and Shaker (40-7) to set up tonight’s televised contest.

Both teams have one division game remaining after tonight, with the Patriots hosting Shaker (1-2, 1-4) and the Cadets entertaining Columbia (1-2, 2-3), before the sectionals begin.

“I’m excited, and the commun­ity is excited. My kids are excited. Their kids are excited,” said De­Poalo. “This is the biggest thing to happen since the two schools [Linton and Mont Pleasant] merged. You’ve probably got to go back to the early ’70s, when Mont Pleasant played Shenendehowa, to find something as big as this in Schen­ectady.”

“We all thought Schenectady would be a tough team this year. I remember looking at our schedule back in August and thinking, ‘This could be a real big game,’ ” Rapp said. “Turns out, it is.”

Schenectady can set a team

record with a sixth win, and containing Terrell, the 2007 Liberty Division Player of the Year, is a must if the Pats are to accomplish that. The senior raced for 236 yards and three touchdowns last week, and had two other TDs called back on penalties.

First-year quarterback Mike Murray added two touchdown passes to Lou DiNovo against Shaker.

“DiNovo is a super athlete, and their quarterback has come a long way. And what do you say about Terrell? DePoalo said. “We’ve got to stop him. His rushing record is on us, but we’re a different team, defensively.”

LaSalle is a different team, offensively, than the one that began the season with wins over Col­onie (25-14) and Niskayuna (28-12). LaSalle will be operating against a Schenectady defense that has gotten big plays out of its end combination of Brandon and Rashawn Champ, linebackers Thompson and Dan Desbiens and Cooper in the secondary.

Saratoga Springs (5-0) is Section II’s only other unbeaten Class AA team, and has a non-league game tonight at Monroe-Woodbury

(5-0). The Blue Streaks are ranked

No. 17 in the state, and Monroe-Woodbury is No. 5.

Troy (3-0, 5-0) hosts Bishop Maginn (3-0, 5-0) in one of Saturday’s featured games, a Class A matchup of Southeast Division leaders.

Watervliet (4-1, 4-1) plays at Fonda-Fultonville (4-1, 4-1) in a key Class C South Division game.

Categories: High School Sports

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