Gritty Spartans’ effort falls short

The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football team could have thrown up a white flag after Sweet Home used
Nicholas Henderson of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake covers his face with his helmet after his team was beaten by Sweet Home Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Nicholas Henderson of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake covers his face with his helmet after his team was beaten by Sweet Home Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.

The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football team could have thrown up a white flag after Sweet Home used its big-play offense to grab a three-touchdown lead in the first half of Saturday’s state Class A championship game at the Carrer Dome.

It would have been the easy way out.

It didn’t happen.

“It was a tough ending, but we showed the character of our team the way we battled in the second half,” senior quarterback Paul Layton said after a 35-28 defeat, the Spartans’ first of the season. “They got a pretty good-sized lead on us, and we battled. We never gave up.”

The Spartans twice clawed to within a touchdown on runs by Erik Vuillaume in the second half, and also had two drives stall in the red zone before the Panthers put together one more series of key plays to finish off a perfect season, and complete Saturday’s three-game title sweep for Buffalo-area teams.

“Sweet Home is an outstanding champion,” said Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell, whose team trailed,

28-7, in the second quarter. “Our kids, in their own right, are champ­ions, too. We didn’t back down.

“That’s our kids. They didn’t give up. We ran out of time.”

“We’re not the biggest and we’re not the fastest, but we showed that we’re going to fight,” said Burnt Hills senior guard/linebacker Connor Hadcock. “We had big hearts.”

Keaton Flint also scored two touchdowns for BH-BL (12-1), Layton booted four extra points and Vuillaume rushed for 87 yards on seven carries in a gutsy performance that left Section II 6-19 in state finals. Lansingburgh lost to Aquinas in last year’s Class A title game, while Amsterdam prevailed at that level in 2005 for Section II’s last championship, topping

Geneva.

“Even though we were down by three touchdowns, our coaches kept telling us to keep our com­posure,” said Hadcock, who was in on 11 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass. “That’s what we did, and we made it a one-score game.”

An interception by Tanner Sellers gave Burnt Hills the ball at the Sweet Home 27, and after Vuillaume ran for 11 yards, the senior went 16 more for a touchdown to help the Spartans get within 35-28 with 6:26 left.

Sweet Home (Section VI,

13-0) ate the rest of the clock on its follow-up possession, with Casey Kacz hitting Will Reese for 19 yards on a third-and-four play, and later sealing the victory with another key pass, an 11-yarder to Noah Nwach­ukwu, on a fourth-and-five with 63 seconds left.

“Any team that gets to the state final and is 12-0, I would expect their best,” said Sweet Home coach John Faller, whose Panthers came in ranked No. 1 in the state, one spot ahead of Burnt Hills. “They put our backs to the wall a couple of times.”

Trailing, 28-21, Burnt Hills had an opportunity to tie the game in the third quarter after Zach Morton’s punt block gave the Spartans possession at the Sweet Home 19. The drive stalled at the six, and Layton kicked what appeared to be a

23-yard field goal, but the Panthers were called for an encroachment penalty before the snap.

Burnt Hills went for the touchdown on fourth-and goal from the three instead of another field goal try, and Layton, under heavy pressure, fired an incomplete pass to the end zone.

“We had to take a shot,” said Shell. “With a state championship on the line, we had to take that chance.”

Sweet Home marched 97 yards on 12 plays following the fourth down miss and boosted its advantage to 35-21 with eight seconds left in the third quarter when Deshanaro Morris scored from the two, and Mike Lawandus kicked his fifth extra point. Burnt Hills’ ensuing drive reached the 10 before Layton was sacked on a fourth-and-seven.

“We had some chances down there,” Shell said. “Give our kids credit for getting those oppor­tunities. Give them [Sweet Home] credit for stopping us.”

Burnt Hills had a difficult time stopping the Panthers in the first half, when Kacz capped their first drive with a 10-yard touchdown run, and D.J. Nettles took a reverse 91 yards to the end zone to complete their second possession.

Burnt Hills answered on a

23-yard touchdown pass from Layton to Flint, and Sweet Home scored three plays after that when Reese took a middle screen 76 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the opening quarter. Nettles hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Kacz in the second quarter as the Panthers went up, 28-7, with 5:31 left.

“They’re athletic. They were outstanding,” Shell said of the Panthers, who rolled up 500 rushing and pasing yards to the Spartans’ 265. “We got caught in a couple of situations where they had athletes in open space.”

The Spartans began their comeback when Flint took an end-around 14 yards for a score with 1:37 left in the opening half. Vuillaume scored on a 42-yard burst to finish off Burnt Hills’ initial drive of the second half, and momentum swung further its way on Morton’s punt block.

“It’s just starting to settle in now that this was the last high school game I’ll play,” said Layton, who was 9-for-19 passing for 96 yards with an interception and his touchdown pass. “It’s sad that it’s over, and it’s not the way we wanted it to end, but it was a great exper­ience and we showed what we’re made of.”

Layton, who rushed for 75 yards on 14 carries, and Hadcock were named the game’s most valuable offensive back and defensive lineman, respectively.

Burnt Hills 7 7 7 7 — 28

Sweet Home 21 7 7 0 — 35

SH — Kacz 10 run (Lawandus kick).

SH — Nettles 91 run (Lawandus kick).

BH — Flint 23 pass from Layton (Layton kick).

SH — Reese 76 pass from Kacz (Lawandus kick).

SH — Nettles 39 pass from Kacz (Lawandus kick).

BH — Flint 14 run (Layton kick).

BH — Vuillaume 42 run (Layton kick).

SH — Morris 2 run (Lawandus kick).

BH — Vuillaume 16 run (Layton kick).

Categories: High School Sports

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