Spartans bracing for a much more difficult test in semis

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell made a concerted effort this week not to mention the Syr­

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell made a concerted effort this week not to mention the Syr­acuse Carrier Dome, site of state championship football games.

“Syracuse might as well be in California right now. It’s that far away,” Shell said after Thursday’s practice. “We’ve got to focus on the game at hand.”

That would be a televised 8 p.m. state Class A semifinal showdown with Cornwall tonight at Dietz Stad­ium in Kingston. The Spartans made it this far in each of the last three seasons, winning twice before a 17-7 setback against Harrison last November.

“We talked about it today. We can’t look ahead,” said Burnt Hills junior quarterback Ryan McDonnell. “Maybe we did a little last year. We were thinking, ‘We’re going to get there.’

“Our captains reminded us of what it was like to not get to the Dome. It stunk.”

Burnt Hills (10-1) got back to Kingston with a 63-20 regional win over Franklin Academy in which Tom Ruppel ran for four touchdowns and a season-high 242 yards. The week before, the Spartans had to rally for their fourth straight Section II title, and beat Amsterdam, 26-23, on McDonnell’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Eric Dillon with 23 seconds left.

“This isn’t going to be like last week. We’re going to be in a battle like we had against Amsterdam,” McDonnell predicted. “They [Cornwall] are a perennial power down there. We can’t go in sleepwalking. We’ve got to be mentally prepared and play good football. This is big-time football. This is big-boy football. We’ve got to focus on beating Cornwall and nothing else.”

Cornwall (Section IX, 10-1) has won seven straight games, each by at least two touchdowns, capped by last week’s 44-19 triumph over then-unbeaten Poughkeepsie. The Dragons are ranked No. 4 in the state, while Burnt Hills, which has won nine games in a row, is No. 6.

“They play offense. They play defense well, too,” Shell said of the Dragons. “They certainly deserve our attention. They’ve had a great season and put themselves in this position.”

“They’re definitely going to be good. It’s hard to find a bad team when there’s only four left in the state. At this stage, everyone can do everything well,” said McDonnell. “They’ve got quick guys, good-sized guys. Their quarterback has a good arm. They have a strong defense.”

Sophomore quarterback Mike White burned the Poughkeepsie defense with three touchdown passes and also ran for a score in Cornwall’s state quarterfinal win. White passed for 245 yards to increase his season total to 1,965 to go with 22 touchdown connections.

“He’s a good passer. They have two good running backs [Rashard Wroten, Peter Catal] who make plays, and they have kids who can catch the ball,” said Shell. “It’s a sit­uation where our defense has to be good all the way around.”

Burnt Hills, as a whole, was good enough, real good and not so good in its three previous state semi­final games. The Spartans edged Nyack in 2008, 14-13, and clubbed Cornwall in 2009, 41-16, before last year’s defeat against Harrison. The Spartans got their only touchdown on a fumble return.

“When you get scoring oppor­tunities, whether it’s your first game or your last game, you’ve got to cash in,” said McDonnell, who has nine touchdown passes. “You’ve got to secure the ball and get a field goal, if not a touchdown.”

“In a game like this, with what’s at stake. you have to be at your best,” said Shell.

Burnt Hills’ only off night proved costly, with seven turnovers factoring in a 23-7 Week 2 loss at Amst­erdam. Burnt Hills’ bounce back has included regular season wins against Class AA teams Schenectady and Shaker as well as Queensbury, a sectional win against then-unbeaten Troy, and last week’s dominant effort that saw Dan Porter run for three touchdowns and 171 yards.

“These kids have had to play top-quality football. These kids have been battle-tested,” said Shell. “That’s a good thing going into a game like this.”

Cornwall has lost only to Wallkill, 10-7, and avenged that setback with a 28-14 victory in the Section IX final.

Defending state Class A champ Aquinas (Section V, 10-1) takes on Maine-Endwell (Section IV, 11-0) in the other semifinal tonight at East Syracuse-Minoa. The state final is a week from today at 2 p.m. Burnt Hills’ state title-game appearances in 2008 and 2009 ended in losses to Sweet Home.

Cambridge (11-0) and Chester (Section IX, 11-0) meet in a Class D state semifinal today at 4 p.m. at Dietz Stadium. In Saturday’s semifinals at Dietz, Hoosick Falls (11-0) takes on Dobbs Ferry (Section I, 9-1) in a Class C game at 11 a.m., Schalmont (11-0) goes against Croton-Harmon (Section I, 10-0) in a Class B tilt at 3 p.m., and Shenendehowa (11-0) plays Newburgh Free Academy (Section IX, 9-1) in a Class AA matchup at 7.

Categories: High School Sports

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