The last thing the Schenectady football team wants to do tonight is drop the ball in its season debut on its new turf field.
Long-time rival Albany, of course, would enjoy nothing more.
“We know they’ll come to play,” Schenectady senior Herman Seise said of the Falcons. “They see us as a tough team to beat, and they want to come out and show what they’ve got.”
The 7 p.m. Class AA crossover game matches a Schenectady team coming off its finest season against an Albany contingent that has lost 10 straight games, going back to the 2007 season. The contest will also be a strategic battle between first-year Patriots coach Jim Kramer and Pete Porcelli, who led Lansingburgh to four Section II championships in eight seasons before taking over the Falcons this year.
Porcelli has brought his double wing to Albany, an offensive set that produced a slew of 1,000-yard runners and piled up points at Lansingburgh.
“We’re trying to build upon something. They’re trying to turn their program around,” said Kramer, who has inherited a team that won eight games last fall and reached its first Class AA final. “We have the utmost respect for them. They’re going to come in and play hard, and we’ve got to raise our level to match that. They’re going to be excited to play football, like we are.”
A pregame ceremony and ribbon cutting will take place at 6:30, and former Mont Pleasant coaching great Larry Mulvaney, for whom the field is named, will be on hand.
“Schenectady is a good team. They went to the Super Bowl last year, and they’re riding that excitement. It’s also the first game on their turf field, and the atmosphere should be electric,” said Porcelli. “If we can fight through that hoopla, maybe we can be in the game in the fourth quarter. That’s our goal, to be in every game.”
Schenectady will be going after its third straight season-opening win, and attempting to better its all-time record against Albany. The Falcons hold a 12-5 series lead, going back to 1988, although Schenectady prevailed in the last meeting, 31-13, in 2006.
“It’s big to go out and win the first game,” said Schenectady senior Steve Kent. “You can start to build momentum, and you keep building off that.”
“It’s a very important game,” said junior Tim Cox, Schenectady’s new starting quarterback. “A lot of people are looking at us to see if we can keep it rolling. It’s important for us to get a good jump on the season.”
Schenectady was impressive in its season debut a year ago, scoring a touchdown on its third play and adding two more before the first half was through in a 36-7 rout of 10-time Section II champ Shenendehowa. Albany lost to Christian Brothers Academy to start its 2008 season, and lost by double digits in each of its next eight outings.
“We did lose some of our pride last year,” said Albany senior Bilal Turner. “We want to get it back. We’re ready to play 48 minutes of football, and if it takes more, it takes more. We’re going to play every down like it’s our last.”
“We’ve worked hard, and shown a lot of dedication,” said Albany senior Rojay Ragbeer. “There’s been a lot of sweat, and we’ve done a lot of running. It’s been a lot more intense this year. We’re going to be ready to go hard and hit, play defense and block.”
Albany’s theme for the new season is “Time to Shine,” and it’s emblazoned on the Falcons’ T-shirts.
“We’ve got the ingrediants. Now, we’ve got to put it together,” Porcelli said. “What we’re looking for in this game are small victories. Make the right block. Make the right run. Focus and do the job, and don’t get caught up in all the outside interference. If we do that, we can give ourselves a chance to win.”
Albany has had only two winning seasons since its run to the Class AA title in 1996, showing 5-4 records in both 2004 and 2005. Albany’s last victory came in Week 8 of 2007, against Shaker, 13-6.
“Coming off a bad season last year, it would be good to come out with a win,” said Ragbeer, a defensive back and wide receiver. “That’s what we’re going to go for.”
“We’re going to go for a win every week,” said Turner, a linebacker. “We know we’ve got to play together, and we’ve got to be prepared.”
Schenectady has been preparing this week for Albany’s speed, and the Falcons have plenty of it with wingbacks Kawan Nunnally, Dominique Daniels and Hezekiah Williamson. Markiem Perry will play fullback, and Mike Blair will set up at quarterback.
“They’ve got fast running backs, and they’ll try to attack the edge,” Kramer said. “And their linebackers impressed me, as far as their sideline-to-sideline movement.”
Kramer said his team performed well on both sides in a scrimmage with Amsterdam last Saturday.
“We had some success, and I believe it was important to have that early,” he said. “We did some good things on both side of the ball, and I found some depth, too. We went against a live opponent for the first time and I found some kids who stood out a little bit.”
Schenectady has only a handful of players who saw significant playing time last year, led by Cox, who’ll also start in the secondary; Seise, who’ll run the ball and play in the secondary; Kent, a receiver/defensive back; two-way lineman Nick Barone; and defensive lineman David Doty. Barone is Schenectady’s only Liberty Division first-team all-star returning of eight selected at the end of the 2008 season.
“We want to get better every day and continue to build, and to do that, we need more game experience,” said Kramer. “We’ve got a lot of kids who are new to the game or are up from the junior varsity, and they need as many reps as they can get.
“We’re ready for Albany. I like our energy and our focus level right now, but the idea is to keep improving as we go along.”
Schenectady is 7-14 all-time in season openers, which includes losses against Albany in 1998 and 1999.
Three of the five Section II champions from last year will be in action tonight, with LaSalle (Class AA) traveling to Saratoga Springs, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (Class A) hosting Scotia-Glenville and Rensselaer (Class D) playing at Greenwich. LaSalle has won three sectional titles in the last four years.
Stillwater will host Cambridge tonight, marking the first game on the Warriors’ new turf field. Shenendehowa will play the first game on its new turf field next Friday against Schenectady. The Plainsmen open up tonight at Shaker.
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Categories: High School Sports