Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake found itself in the same position as last year, playing catch-up football much of the way against western New York power Sweet Home at the Carrier Dome Saturday.
The outcome was the same, too.
D.J. Nettles took a screen pass 54 yards for a touchdown to cap a 19-point, second-quarter outburst by the big-play Panthers, who went on to capture their second consecutive state Class A championship at the Spartans’ expense with a 34-7 win.
Sweet Home (13-0, Section XI) registered a 35-28 triumph over BH-BL in the 2008 final, after racing to 14-0 and 28-7 first-half leads, and extended its victory streak to 26 games Saturday with another score-first, stay-in-front performance.
Burnt Hills finished 12-1 for the second year in a row.
“They’re a real good team. A first-class team,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said. “They’re a championship team for a reason. The proof is in the game.”
Nettles had a huge game for the state’s No. 1-ranked team with seven receptions for 142 yards and his touchdown, while on defense, the Class A most valuable player recorded six tackles and intercepted two passes, both in the third quarter to quell the Spartans’ slim comeback hopes.
“We’ve got strong guys. They’re big and strong, and it was tough to match up,” said Burnt Hills junior Brandon Beatty, who had a touchdown and 110 rushing yards on 22 carries. “I wish we could have come out on top. Maybe next year.”
Burnt Hills’ quest to become Section II’s first state champ since Amsterdam in 2005 and first team to go 13-0 since Watervliet in 1996 was dashed in that game-changing second quarter.
Ralph Neason and Jahaan Williams also scored in that period for the Panthers, Williams gaining the end zone on a 91-yard pass play, and Burnt Hills lost quarterback Phil Neumann to a shoulder injury, which he sustained on a 20-yard scramble.
“They do what they do very well, and they do it with speed,” said Shell, whose team came in ranked No. 2 in the state. “It was not for lack of effort on our part. They’re good.”
“They’re a great team,” said Neumann, who was 7-for-12 passing for 53 yards before being sidelined on a hard tackle. “They won state championships twice in a row. They’re a great team, but I’m proud of our team, as well.”
Neasman scored the first of his three touchdowns on a one-yard run early in the second quarter, with Nick Cuillo’s 42-yard reception setting it up. Williams raced 60 yards after hauling in a pass from Patrick McMahon to finish off his 91-yard scoring play before Nettles went 54 yards on the screen play with 70 seconds remaining in the half.
“It was execution,” said Nettles, who also helped Sweet Home build its big lead a year ago with a touchdown run and a scoring catch. “A lot of execution.”
“We gave up big plays. You can’t do that,” Shell said. “Big plays hurt. At any level of football, they decide the game.”
Burnt Hills grabbed momentum early in the third quarter with a defensive stop, Beatty’s 63-yard touchdown run and Phil Nusbaum’s interception two plays into Sweet Home’s next series. Nettles, though, intercepted Burnt Hills backup quarterback Keaton Flint on the Spartans’ follow-up possesion, and picked off the junior again later in the frame.
“When they scored that touchdown, we knew what time it was,” said Nettles, a senior. “It was time to make a play.”
“We got a little momentum going. That’s why they’re a championship football team,” said Shell. “They made big plays on both sides of the ball.”
Nettles’ second interception led to Neasman’s one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The junior running back added another touchdown from one yard out, before K.J. Zinermon’s two-point run completed the most productive scoring effort against the Spartans this season.
Nusbaum was selected the game’s most valuable defensive back after intercepting a pass and making six tackles, and Neumann earned the contest’s sportsmanship award for Burnt Hills.
Section II has been on the losing end of three straight Class A title games, including Lansingburgh’s 34-12 setback against Aquinas in 2007.
Sweet Home 0 19 0 15 — 34
Burnt Hills 0 0 7 0 — 7
SH – Neasman 1 run (McMahon kick).
SH – Williams 91 pass from McMahon (kick blocked).
SH – Nettles 54 pass from McMahon (kick failed).
BH – Beatty 63 run (Nusbaum kick).
SH – Neasman 1 run (McMahon kick).
SH – Neasman 1 run (Zinermon run).