School Football: Fast-starting Plainsmen face a bigger challenge tonight

Veteran Shenendehowa football coach Brent Steuerwald is looking at tonight’s Class AA crossover game

Veteran Shenendehowa football coach Brent Steuerwald is looking at tonight’s Class AA crossover game against visiting Shaker as a building block.

The meat of Shenendehowa’s Empire Division schedule and what it hopes is a lengthy playoff run follows the matchup of unbeatens, which will be broadcast by Time Warner Cable Sports.

“There’s a momentum and

att­itude that comes with success, with accomplishment,” Steuerwald said. “We hope to increase that. We’re trying to create an atmosphere with the kids where they believe, ‘We can do this.’ ”

The Plainsmen have already done plenty in their division wins over Bethlehem and Guilderland, yet

tonight’s contest represents a big step up in competition. The Blue Bison opened with Liberty Div­ision victories over Columbia and Col­onie, setting up tonight’s only Class AA game pitting 2-0 squads.

“We cannot do what we did last year,” said Steuerwald, referring to a 37-13 loss to Guilderland. “We were 5-0 going into our big homecoming game. We thought we didn’t have to show up, and we got our butts kicked. I reminded the kids of that.

“I’m not expecting a breeze. It’s going to be a challenging game. I see Shaker as a dangerous team. It’s been a while since they were really competitive, and their coach [Greg Sheeler] has done a great job of turning that program around. They’re on the upswing.”

Shenendehowa is, too, in what is Steuerwald’s 44th and final season with the program he started. His Plainsmen have scored at least one touchdown in each of the eight quarters they’ve played while piling up over 700 rushing yards, and have surrendered little in beating Bethlehem, 50-0, and Guilderland last week, 27-0.

“It’s a talent issue,” said Steuerwald, whose 2010 team won seven games and reached the Section II final after consecutive 5-4 seasons. “We brought up kids from an undefeated JV team that have filled in very well. We have excellent speed at the skill positions. We have very good kids in the secondary and a strong group of linebackers, maybe the best we’ve had in three or four years. Our offensive and defensive linemen last year were OK, but we were not mature.

“This year we’re major steps ahead. That combination puts us in a situation where we’re better than we’ve been in several years.”

“They have a very talented offensive team. They execute and don’t make mistakes. On defense, they’re fundamentally sound, they fly to the football and they’re physical,” said Sheeler. “We know Shenendehowa is the team to beat in Class AA. If we want to meet our goals, we have to play with them.”

Shaker could not hang with Shenendehowa in the Class AA quarterfinals last season and dropped a 48-6 decision which was part of an 0-3 finish after the Blue Bison started with six consecutive wins.

“We talked about that game. It’s part of our program. It’s not something we’ve ignored,” said Sheeler. “It’s not our only motivation, but it is part of our motivation.”

Shenendehowa has opened a season with back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 2000 behind a group led by linebackers Brandon Miller, Nick Hirsch and Corey Acker, end Ryan McCart and tackle Cole Lampman. Standout defensive back Kyle Buss will join them tonight

after missing the opening games with a wrist injury.

“Guilderland gave us a run for our money, in terms of effort, contact and attitude, but we played real good defense. We shut them down and that gave us an opportunity to score points,” said Steuerwald. “That’s the kind of football team we are.”

Tailback Tony Fusco has been the featured player out of Shenendehowa’s power-I offense with five touchdowns, three of them along with 208 rushing yards coming against Bethlehem. The Plainsmen will also come at Shaker with quarterback Teddy Van Galen, runners Marcelino Christie, Acker, McCart and Lampman, and receiver Alex DeRusso.

Shaker will counter with quarterback Chris Landers, a host of runners led by Kyle Bernard, Ryan Griffin, Jacob Quay and Tyler Oppelt, and wide receiver Adrian Valentino. Bernard rambled for 201 yards and a touchdown out of Shaker’s wing-T

offense, and Oppelt had two TDs in last week’s 35-18 win over Colonie. Griffin produced a pair of touchdowns in a 32-28 win against Col­umbia, while Oppelt ran for the fourth-quarter game-winner to cap a late 80-yard march.

“The best thing we can do is spread the field and control the ball,” said Sheeler. “We moved the ball well in our first two games. We ran for over 300 yards in both of them. Having moved the ball like that gives us confidence.”

Shaker’s defense is anchored by linebacker Steve Boldish and end Schuyler Huntington.

Tonight’s Class A headliner sends Glens Falls (1-0, 2-0) to Amsterdam (2-0, 2-0) for a Northwest Division game. The Rugged Rams ended Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s 31-game win streak against Section II teams last week.

Burnt Hills (1-1) hosts Schenec­tady (1-1) in a non-league game, with the Pats also looking to bounce back after last week’s overtime loss against Ballston Spa.

Categories: High School Sports

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