BH-BL defense facing a tough test

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake turned in a superb defensive effort in last week’s Section II Class A titl

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake turned in a superb defensive effort in last week’s Section II Class A title-game shutout against Bishop Maginn.

With the stakes even higher, Spartans coach Matt Shell is asking for a little more.

“They have to play the best game they have all year,” Shell said of tonight’s 7 p.m. state regional contest against Section X champ Indian River at Watertown High School. “It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for our defense.”

Indian River (10-0) is averaging just over 45 points heading into its fifth regional in as many years against a Section II opponent, and sixth going back to 1999. Indian River’s only victory during that stretch was against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, 30-7, in 2006.

Lansingburgh held off Indian River a year ago, 37-36, in a crazy

regional that saw eight lead changes,

and wasn’t decided until a late

interception by the Knights.

“The last time we went up there, we wanted to compete, and in the first half, we did,” Shell said of the regional game in which Indian River scored 20 fourth-quarter points to end BH-BL’s 10-game winning streak. “We got flat, and it snowballed on us.”

Shell knows his Burnt Hills

(10-0) team cannot allow Indian River to string together touchdowns, as it routinely has. The Warriors have produced over 30 points in every game but one, and, in their last three, have humbled Potsdam (36-0), Canton (54-6) and Saranac (47-0).

Penn State-bound Curtis Dukes is the Warriors’ ace, showing 1,081 rushing yards and a team-leading 16 touchdowns, while four of his backfield mates have each gained over 450 yards and combined for another 29 touchdowns.

“They have a lot of balance, but the big guy [Dukes], he’s a game-

changer,” Shell said. “You miss a tackle and it’s a touchdown because of his speed.”

Dukes scored on a 64-yard run against Lansingburgh last year, and burned BH-BL for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in 2006, one covering 36 yards.

“He’s a great player, a Div­ision I player. Anytime you face a player of that caliber, you’ve got to be on your toes, but they do a lot of other good things, too,” said Shell. “To our benefit, we’ve played good competition each week. The difference is we know what teams around here are generally going to do. With teams out of the section, there’s the unknown. There might be some things we haven’t seen.”

Shell saw his defense post its fifth shutout of the season in last week’s 19-0 win, with Tyler Paluba ending two Bishop Maginn drives with fumble recoveries, Camren McKenna intercepting two passes and the Spartans recording three sacks while limiting the Griffins to 140 yards of offense.

McKenna was filling in for starting safety Keaton Flint, who sustained a knee injury, but is expected to play tonight. Other defensive leaders are the linebacking group of Connor Hadcock, Ian Schwan and Chris Van Alstyne, tackles Kevin Crowley and Mike Matrazzo, and 6-foot-5 ends Zach Morton and

Jacob Meyers.

The Spartans have surrendered multiple touchdowns only twice, in a 35-20 sectional win over Troy and in a 60-14 Week-2 win over Lansingburgh.

“I’m hoping we have some things Indian River hasn’t seen, as far as personnel,” Shell said, referring to the size of his defensive ends, both Class A Northwest Division first team all-stars. “We’re used to having 5-10 guys play the end for us. Our two guys are both 6-5 with long arms, and you don’t see that every day.”

Senior quarterback Paul Layton will be BH-BL’s only player who has seen regional action before. He’ll be attempting to lead the Spartans to victory for the 29th time in his career.

“If you’re only going to have one guy who has played in the game before, it’s a good thing he’s your quarterback,” Shell said of the Northwest Division Player of the Year. “He’s experienced, and that should help us.”

Layton set up Erik Vuillaume’s touchdown run with a long pass to Flint, scored a touchdown himself and kicked a field goal to help stake BH-BL to a 16-0 halftime lead against Bishop Maginn. Layton kicked another field goal in the fourth quarter to seal the victory and send the Spartans on to the state quarterfinals.

“You never know when you’re going to get there again. You get in this situation, and you want to have a good showing,” said Shell. “The guys have worked so hard and put so much into it. You want to see them do well. If the kids play hard and at a high level, we’ll have a chance.”

Vuillaume did very well last week against a solid Maginn

defense, finishing with 107 rushing yards and his 12th touchdown. Vuillaume, Layton and the rest of the Spartans will be operating against an Indian River defense that has four shutouts, and only three times has surrendered double-digit points.

“We’re one step away from the final four. There’s a lot to play for, for us and them,” Shell said. “The bottom line is going to be blocking and tackling, and that’s nothing new. The team that does it best is probably going to win the game.”

saturday’s games

LaSalle (8-2) will be seeking its first Class AA regional win Saturday at 7:30 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston against a New Rochelle (Section I, 9-1) team that has rattled off nine straight victories.

New Rochelle got three first-half touchdown passes from Jonny McGhee, and its defense had seven sacks and three interceptions in a 34-0 Section I title-game win over Carmel.

LaSalle won its only state playoff game in 2000 at the Class A level, but dropped Class AA regionals in 2005 and last year. The Cadets beat Schenectady, 26-14, to advance.

Hudson Falls (9-1) makes its first Class B regional appearance since 2000 Saturday at 1 against Beekmantown (Section VII, 8-2) at Glens Falls High School. Hudson Falls defeated Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk behind Joe McMurry’s three touchdowns, 21-0, and Beekmantown clipped Peru, 21-20, to set up the state quarterfinal. Hudson Falls beat Peru in 2000 for its only state playoff win in four tries, and brings a seven-game winning streak into the matchup.

Watervliet (8-2) has a rematch from 1997 when it takes on Saranac Lake (Section VII, 9-1) in a Class C regional Saturday at 1 at Plattsburgh High School. Watervliet won that 1997 game as part of its 6-1 state playoff record, which includes a championship run in 1996. The Cannoneers stymied Schuylerville and avenged a season-opening loss in the Section II final, winning, 10-6.

Rensselaer (9-1) and Moriah (Section VII, 10-0) meet in a Class D regional Saturday at 1 at Hudson Falls High School. The Rams got five touchdowns from Jashem Hamilton, and claimed their first Section II crown since 1995 with a 60-14 victory over Fort Edward.

Categories: High School Sports

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