Brent Steuerwald wants to finish on top in a state football tournament he envisioned and helped create as the Section II chairman years ago.
With one more victory, Shenendehowa’s retiring head coach will get an opportunity to take his team to the finish line at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
“I’m very, very thrilled with what this team has accomplished. We haven’t been this far in a long time,” Steuerwald said. “But since it’s my final year, I truly want to make it to the Dome this year.”
Shenendehowa has Newburgh Free Academy standing in its way in a Class AA state semifinal tonight at 7 at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
The Plainsmen (11-0) are coming off their most difficult test of the season, edging North Rockland in a bruising quarterfinal, 13-10 in overtime, while the Goldbacks (9-1) had a state tournament bye after their 46-21 rout of Warwick in the Section IX final.
“They’re very athletic. They have great size and speed,” Steuerwald said. “They are one of four Class AA teams still playing football. We’re not dealing with just any team.”
Shenendehowa can tie a team single-season record with a 12th victory tonight and advance to the state final for a third time. Shenendehowa’s 2002 team was 12-0 before losing in the state Class AA title game to Webster Schroeder. The Plainsmen made it to the 1995 Class A championship game, too, and bowed to Jamestown.
“This team put itself in elite company when it joined the 10 other Shenendehowa teams that won Section II championships. Now, they can be the second team to win 12 games,” said Steuerwald. “This team has a lot of goals. They want to make it to the state final, and the ultimate goal is obvious.”
The immediate goal is twofold, to score against an NFA team that had eight sacks and three interceptions against Warwick, and contain a Goldbacks’ offense that put up the second-most points in a Section IX title game.
“I don’t think they’re better than we are. I don’t think we’re better than they are,” Steuerwald said of his 44th group of Plainsmen. “It’s going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes. Who capitalizes on their possessions, converts scoring opportunities into something, be it a field goal or a touchdown. Who makes the big play when an opportunity presents itself.”
Tony Fusco made the biggest play for the Plainsmen last week, with his one-handed catch and sideline dash in overtime, resulting in a nine-yard touchdown that kept their season alive. Fusco also scored Shenendehowa’s first touchdown on a 30-yard run which was part of the senior’s gritty 125-yard performance.
“Their defense is analogous to North Rockland. They’re very tough on defense,” Steuerwald said of an NFA cast that’s led by 6-foot, 305-pound tackle Mikal Myers. “That’s why they’re in this game. They’ve given their offense multiple opportunities.”
Anthony DuBose led Newburgh’s offense with 121 yards and two touchdowns against Warwick. The Goldbacks built a 30-0 halftime lead in their first Section IX title-game win since 2003, that outburst including a touchdown run and pass by quarterback Mark Risio and Jalen Williams’ 85-yard interception return for a score.
“They’re similar to Ballston Spa,” said Steuerwald. “They run a lot of isolation, and their quarterback will keep it. Their fullback is a big, strong kid. Their two wings are very good.”
Shenendehowa lost in its last semifinal appearance in 2003 against New Rochelle, and in 2002 it beat Newburgh in a semifinal after posting a quarterfinal victory over North Rockland. The Plainsmen had a quarterfinal bye in 2003.
“Without question, a bye is not what I would desire. I think it throws you off tempo,” said Steuerwald. “In 2003, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves, whether we should go hard or lay off a little. It didn’t help us at all.”
The Plainsmen beat Roosevelt in a 1995 semifinal and lost to Fairport in a second-round regional game in 1992, the year before state championship games began.
Shenendehowa earned a share of the state large-school championship in 1982-84, based on a vote by the New York sportswriter’s association. Regional play began in 1988.
Binghamton (Section IV, 8-2) meets Orchard Park (Section VI, 11-0) in the other Class AA semifinal tonight at East Syracuse-Minoa. The title game is one week from Sunday at 6 p.m.
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