The Schenectady High School football team has never been involved in something like this. Not even close.
“We’ve tried to be business-like all week, but I’ll tell you, it’s been a crazy week. TV cameras, people talking to them, all sorts of stuff,” Patriots coach Carm DePoalo said before practice Thursday at Mont Pleasant Middle School. “During it all, my message to them has been a simple one. You can do something you’ll remember for the rest of your lives, so make the most of it.”
That something would be winning the Section II Class AA championship.
The Patriots (8-1) will get that opportunity tonight at 7 at Colonie High School, when they take on a familiar foe in LaSalle Institute (7-2), in a rematch from Schenectady’s 34-7 victory during Week 6 of the regular season.
The Patriots reached their first title game by beating Niskayuna last week, 27-8, while LaSalle produced one of the greatest comebacks in Section II playoff history by rallying past Saratoga Springs, 41-39, after trailing by 26 points.
“We’ve talked about having no letups, no taking plays off,” DePoalo said. “We’ve talked about their comeback.”
A 99-yard scoring drive in the final minutes propelled defending champion LaSalle into its third final in four years, and its fourth title matchup since 2000. Schenectady’s playoff credentials before this year included one victory, in 2001.
“We’re excited to be there, but we’re not satisfied,” said DePoalo, the Patriots’ second-year coach. “This has been one of our goals, and we’ve got a few more we want to accomplish.”
An immediate goal is to contain star LaSalle running back Marquis Terrell, who rushed for 189 yards and a touchdown in the first game between the teams, yet fumbled three times. Schenectady turned each of those turnovers into a touchdown in building a 28-0 halftime lead.
“I don’t expect our tailback to put the ball on the ground three times in a row,” said LaSalle coach Al Rapp. “The last time he did that was in his first start as a sophomore, when we played Columbia.”
Terrell ran for 166 yards and a touchdown against Saratoga, Tyler Washington ran for 112 yards and a touchdown and quarterback Mike Murray ran for two scores and threw touchdown
passes to Lou DiNovo and Mike Blais. Blais caught his, a four-yarder, with 11 seconds left to cap the winning drive.
“I think we’ve always been a pretty good second-half team because of our conditioning,” said Rapp. “We went 99 yards on 11 plays, and watching the film, we looked good physically in the end, and everything came together.”
It wasn’t the first time LaSalle staged a dramatic comeback in a big playoff game. The Cadets scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns — two by Terrell and another by DiNovo — to erase a 17-0 deficit in last year’s 28-17 Super Bowl win against Guilderland.
The Cadets spotted Saratoga a touchdown in the 2005 Super Bowl before roaring back in a
“I think it sends a message,” Rapp said. “This year, we’ve come back in every game we’ve won except CBA.”
LaSalle beat CBA, 48-6, in one of four games that it has reached 40 points. Another came against Bethlehem in the quarterfinals, a 40-14 win, when Terrell ran for 242 yards and scored two touchdowns.
“Terrell feels he owes his team something. He’s one of the best backs in the state, and he’s going to run hard,” DePoalo said. “We’ve got to stop him from breaking the big ones, the 70-, 80-yarders.”
Stopping LaSalle’s passing game is another chore for Schenectady. Murray passed for three touchdowns in the quarterfinal win over Bethlehem, two going to DiNovo and another to Vinny Planz.
“This is different than the last two weeks. With Ballston Spa [in a 27-21 quarterfinal win], we took away their option. With Niskayuna, we knew they weren’t going to run and we defended the pass,” said DePoalo, whose Patriots forced nine turnovers in their last two wins. “This is a whole different thing. They run the ball and pass the ball, and get a lot of people involved. It’s going to be a bigger challenge.”
LaSalle faces a challenge of its own in dealing with Schenectady’s offensive cast, which is led by quarterback Nick Ottati and running back Marc Thompson, who have combined to score 22 of their team’s 42 touchdowns. Ottati also has 14 touchdown passes.
“The scary thing about Schenectady is they’re so athletic,” said Rapp. “They go with 11 athletes across the board, but I like our heart, discipline and execution.”
Ottati scored on three quarterback keepers and threw a touchdown pass to Anthony Cooper in the first game with LaSalle, Thompson churned for 169 yards and fellow running back Herman Seise gained a career-high 109 with a touchdown as Schenectady locked up the Liberty Division title.
“We want to drive the ball on them and keep it out of their hands,” DePoalo said. “We were able to do that pretty well the last time we played. People talk about the fumbles, but we still had to drive the ball to get those touchdowns.”
Thompson took center stage last week in Schenectady’s ball-control offense, rushing for three touchdowns and 147 yards for his his eighth straight 100-plus game, while Dan Desbiens, Kwami Hilts, Marcus Brandon, Rashawn Champ, Billy Rios and Tim Cox sparked the defense.
“You have two teams that are equally balanced. The team with less turnovers and less penalties, those are two big issues, and who comes to play up front,” DePoalo said.
Tonight’s winner will meet the Section I champion [Carmel or New Rochelle] a week from Saturday in a state quarterfinal game at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
“I think it’s going to be a great football game. A classic,” DePoalo said. “You’ve got two teams that are going to bring their ‘A’ game. You’ve got the two best running backs in the area. This is for all the marbles. It’s going to be something special.”
Schuylerville (9-0) makes its fourth Section II Class C championship-game appearance in five years tonight at 7 against Watervliet (7-2) at Christian Brothers Academy.
The Black Horses have been on an offensive roll, scoring over 40 points in five straight games, including sectional wins against Tamarac (60-20) and Fonda-Fultonville
(56-26). Austin Bateman, Shane Larkin and Brad Lyon each ran for over 100 yards and combined for eight touchdowns against Fonda-Fultonville.
Watervliet knocked Chatham from the unbeatens with a 20-3 semifinal win last week, avenging a 14-6 season-opening loss while qualifying for its first title game since 2003. Watervliet won its last title in 1997, and Schuylerville won its last in 2005.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (9-0) and Bishop Maginn (9-0) battle for the Class A championship Saturday at 7 at Colonie. The Spartans are in their third straight final and are seeking a second banner after splitting with Lansingburgh in 2006 and 2007.
Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (7-2) and Hudson Falls (8-1) meet for the Class B title Saturday at 3 at Amsterdam, and Fort Edward (6-3) and Rensselaer (8-1) play for Class D honors at 1 at Glens Falls. Fort Edward is the two-time defending champ, but took a 47-14 mid-season beating by the Rams.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: High School Sports