Fusco heads up Gazette All-Area Football Team

With 32 touchdowns scored in leading Shenendehowa to its finest season since 2004, senior tailback i
Shenendehowa’s Tony Fusco is the Offensive Player of the Year on the Gazette All-Area Football team.
Shenendehowa’s Tony Fusco is the Offensive Player of the Year on the Gazette All-Area Football team.

Tony Fusco made a superb one-handed grab on a screen pass and headed down the sideline in a state Class AA quarterfinal game at Dietz Stadium. What happened next was even more impressive.

“One of his great attributes is his vision,” veteran Shenendehowa coach Brent Steuerwald said of his senior tailback. “He can see a kid coming from the side. When two kids are converging, he knows which one to take on.”

Fusco saw the opponent from the side after his reception, and, at the four-yard line, lept high over North Rockland’s Rashon Johnson as the latter dove for the tailback’s knees. Fusco danced into the end zone to complete a nine-yard play and give Shenendehowa a 13-10 double-overtime victory.

The dramatic win, in which Fusco ran for 126 yards and a second-quarter touchdown, was the last of 318 in Steuerwald’s career.

“He gave a total commitment to getting there. He has that hunger, a deep, inbred hunger. He gave everything he had,” Steuerwald said.

Fusco got into the end zone 32 times, setting a school single-season touchdown record while leading the Plainsmen to their finest season since 2003. The Daily Gazette Offensive Player of the Year produced multiple touchdowns in each of Shenendehowa’s 11 wins, including a team record-tying five in back-to-back Section II playoff games against LaSalle and Columbia.

Fusco is Shenendehowa’s first Gazette Offensive Player of the Year since Lee Bates, who, in 2002, scored a school-record 29 touchdowns for his state runner-up team.

“He brings a lot to the table, intelligence, excellent vision, excellent speed and great physical toughness,” Steuerwald said of the Empire Division Offensive Player of the Year. “When I needed something, I could count on him.”

Fusco ran 215 times for 1,594 yards, a Shenendehowa total eclipsed only by Bates (2,070 in 2002) and Fakhree Munir (1,748 in 1995), and generated 30 of his 32 touchdowns on the ground. On nine occasions, he surpassed 100 yards, going for 208 against Bethlehem and 204 when Shenendehowa beat Christian Brothers Academy and wrapped up the Empire Division title. Plenty of those yards came after blocks from Gazette first-team tackle Mark Thomas.

“Football is a game of acceleration, deacceleration, and reacceleration. Stop and go, and he’s excellent at changes of pace,” Steuerwald said of the football and wrestling star. “He reads what’s in front of him and takes advantage of it.”

Fusco caught 14 passes for 148 yards, with the senior going 47 yards for a touchdown on one of those grabs against Shaker. His rushing touchdowns included two bursts of 30 yards and others covering 41, 43, 51 and 59 yards.

“We had more depth this year so he could focus on offense,” said Steuerwald. “Because he didn’t have to play 48 minutes, he was a step faster and a step fresher.”

Record-setting back

Junior tailback Chris Smith pounded his way to the top of Columbia’s records lists for rushing yards with 1,739, touchdowns with 23 and points with 146 in leading the Blue Devils to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1983 and eight victories.

“He exceeded all expectations. He won the job in the preseason and took off,” Columbia coach Craig Cavotta said of the first-year varsity player. “You’ve got to have good guys up front and a good quarterback, but he’s the main reason we got there.”

The Class AA Liberty Division Player of the Year ran for over 100 yards four times and for over 200 four times, including a 285-yard performance against Guilderland. The week before, he scored a school-record six touchdowns against Colonie, and reached the end zone at least once in each of Columbia’s 10 games.

“He’s a stud,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer. “He’s a physical, downhill runner. Normally, first contact doesn’t take him down.”

Schalmont was down when sophomore Devon Willis ran for a two-point conversion in overtime and gave the Sabres a thrilling 36-35 win over Albany Academy in the Section II Class B final. Willis ran for 256 yards and one of his 19 touchdowns in that game, which was part of a sensational season for the West Division Offensive Player of the Year.

With his fantastic speed and elusive moves, Willis rushed for 1,588 yards, and had nine games with over 100 in the best tailback performance ever put forth for the Sabres.

An early-season injury thrust Albany Academy’s starting tailback into the quarterback role, and Conner Hartigan delivered every week in leading the Cadets to the brink of a sectional title. The senior ran for 1,671 yards and 27 touchdowns, and caught two scoring passes and fired five while going 50-for-98 through the air for 575 yards.

“He was thrown into a situation, and got better every game,” Cadets coach Tony Fruscio said of the Reinfurt Division Player of the Year. “He had an unbelievable year.”

Hartigan rushed for a school-record 385 yards and five touchdowns against Beekmantown. He had three other games with over 200 yards, four games with over 100 yards, and scored in every contest.

Gazette All-Area quarterback Garrett Delory led Section II with 20 touchdown passes to go with 1,810 yards on a 110-for-170 effort. The Liberty Division Offensive Player of the Year passed for 329 yards against Shaker, also had games with 297, 279 and 255 yards, and was intercepted only three times in leading the Cadet to the Class AA semifinals.

Top receivers

Often double covered, Schenectady senior Jallah Tarver used his speed, strong hands and acrobatics to accumulate 605 yards, 44 receptions and four touchdowns. The Liberty Division first team receiver caught a game-winning TD pass against Colonie, and helped the Patriots reach the sectionals for the fifth year in a row.

“We did a lot with him,” said Kramer. “Screens, short passes, down the field, and he emerged as one of the better skill kids in the area.”

Dillon Greene did, as well, piling up 48 catches, 746 yards and nine receiving touchdowns for Cobleskill-Richmondville. The two-time West Division first-team all-star ended his career as the Bulldogs all-time leader in the three categories (87, 1,253, 14).

“This year was his breakout year,” said C-R coach Ed Hantho. “He was our go-to player, and there were very few occasions when he didn’t come through.”

Greene ran for a touchdown and had three called back on penalties, including a 105-yard interception return.

Kicker Jon Martin of Bethlehem and tackle Nick Crocetto of state Class A runner-up Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake are repeat All-Area first-team selections. Bound for the University at Albany, Martin was 20-for-22 in extra points, booted four field goals to extend his school career record to 11, and averaged 37.1 yards on 28 punts. The three-time Class AA first-team all-star kicked two field goals in the Section II senior game including a 45-yarder.

Crocetto and Thomas are joined on the All-Area line by Burnt Hills’ Nick Marchesiello at center, Schenectady tackle Tyler DePasquale, and guards Justin Snide of Columbia and Mike Zaloga of Christian Brothers Academy.

Categories: High School Sports

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