Class AA football: Plainsmen better prepared this time

Shenendehowa went into last year’s Section II Class AA championship football game as a heavy underdo

Shenendehowa went into last year’s Section II Class AA championship football game as a heavy underdog and played accordingly in a 38-0 loss to Troy.

Never before had the Plainsmen been so humbled in a Super Bowl.

“We overachieved to get to that point, and Troy was just outstanding,” Plainsmen coach Brent Steuerwald said. “I told the kids in the beginning of the year, ‘I want to be this year’s Troy. Let’s beat everyone. Let’s win the Super Bowl and get to the regionals.’ ”

Shenendehowa can accomplish both of those goals tonight in what will mark the final Section II contest in Steuerwald’s illustrious career, on the turf field that bears his name.

Shenendehowa (9-0) will host Columbia (8-1) in the lone area title game at 7, with the Plainsmen making their 15th Super Bowl appearance and the Blue Devils only their second. The other four sectional finals are Saturday.

“I knew from the beginning this would be a very good team, and we had a chance to do some spec­ial things,” Steuerwald said of his 44th edition of Plainsmen. “When we won our division and went undefeated in the regular season, it became a very good year. When we made it here, it became even better. Winning this game would make my final year an exceptional year.”

This year has already been that for Columbia and first-year coach Craig Cavotta, considering the Blue Devils lost their first six games in 2010 and finished 2-7. Columbia’s last winning campaign was 5-4 in 2003.

“We thought we could be pretty good,” said Cavotta. “Did we think in my first year we’d get to the

Super Bowl? Probably not, but things have fallen into place. This is a pretty big deal around here.”

Columbia will bring an eight-game winning streak into its first Super Bowl since a 1983 loss to Bishop Maginn, and a No. 20 state ranking. Shenendehowa has climbed to No. 4 in the state rankings.

“Our program struggled for a long time. We came in this year with the approach of one step at a time. One day, one week at a time, and good things happened for us,” said Cavotta. “The team came together. They worked hard. They bought into what we we’re doing. It’s almost been a perfect storm.”

“This is the first time in 20-plus years they have a chance to play in the Section II Super Bowl. Their whole school, their kids and their community, they’re all really excited,” said Steuerwald. “That can inspire a team to great deeds.”

Columbia captured the Class AA Liberty Division title before posting sectional wins over Guilderland,

40-19, and Christian Brothers Academy, 25-14, to equal their all-time playoff win total. Shenendehowa, the Empire Division titlist, knocked off Shaker, 35-7, and LaSalle, 45-20, to get a crack at its 11th Section II banner.

“This game will be us going against an offense and defense that’s probably the highest level that we’ve played all year long,” said Steuerwald. “It will be a demanding task. Hopefully, we rise to the occas­ion. If we’re not successful, it will be a disappointment, but not a crushing disappointment because of all the things this team has accomplished.”

The Plainsmen have five shutouts, and the fewest points they’ve produced was 27 in a win over Guilderland. They’ve piled up at least 34 in every other game, including last week when Tony Fusco ran for 169 yards and five touchdowns to give the senior 25 this year. Quarterback Teddy Van Galen had his third three-touchdown passing game the week before.

“Fusco is their guy. He has speed and power,” said Cavotta. “If we’re going to slow him down, it’s got to start up front. We need to be phys­ical.”

Chris Smith was the workhorse in Columbia’s win over CBA with 244 rushing yards and three touchdowns which elevated his school single-season record to 22. That was Smith’s third straight game with over 200 rushing yards and the junior’s fourth this year.

“Our line has done a great job, and with Chris running, it’s been a great combination for us,” said Cavotta. “They complement each other well.”

“Their whole offense revolves around Smith. If we can keep him within a reasonable range, they’ll have trouble beating us,” said Steuerwald. “If he goes for 250 yards, we’ll have trouble beating them.”

Shenendehowa won its last Super Bowl in 2003 against Troy, and also prevailed in the title game the year before against Colonie.

“This is a very good team,” said Steuerwald. “It’s probably similar to the teams we had when we went on that run of four years [2002-05] where we only lost our last game of the season.”

Shenendehowa is 3-0 all-time against Columbia in the playoffs, and used wins in 1997 and 2002 to reach championship games.

“We’ve got to come out and play as hard as we can for 48 minutes,” said Cavotta. “I’ve been telling my younger guys all week that you may not get another opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. And for our seniors, if we don’t win, it will be their last game. We want to make the most of this chance.”

In a double-header Saturday at Shenendehowa, Schalmont (9-0) and Albany Academy (7-2) play for the Class B championship at 3, and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (8-1) and Amsterdam (9-0) meet in the Class A final at 7. Hoosick Falls (9-0) and Fonda-Fultonville (8-0) play at Still­water at 7:30 in the Class C title game. Cambridge (9-0) and Rensselaer (8-1) play at Schuylerville at 1 for the Class D crown.

Schalmont, Burnt Hills, Hoosick Falls and Cambridge are all looking to repeat.

Categories: High School Sports

Leave a Reply