Semi-pro football: Fighting Irish face Colonials in opener

It doesn’t make sense that a team that’s played in three straight national championship games would

It doesn’t make sense that a team that’s played in three straight national championship games would have an identity crisis.

Well, meet the Troy Fighting Irish, which practices in Troy, plays its home games at Schenec­tady High School and is made up of talent from throughout the Capital Region.

The Irish will begin their quest for a fourth straight Northeastern Football Alliance championship Saturday night when they travel to Knox Field in Johnstown to take on the Glove Cities Colonials in a rematch of last year’s playoff semifinal, won by the Irish, 49-20. Kickoff is 7:30.

The Irish play their first home game at Larry Mulvaney Field on June 22 against the Oneonta City Stallions.

It’s probably no coincidence that the Irish’s success has gone hand-in-hand with the arrival of Pete Porcelli, who is in his fourth season as head coach, Porcelli, a native of Long Island, was a member of the original Albany Firebirds Arena Football League team and never left. His coaching resume also includes a very successful stint at Lansingburgh High School.

The Irish won the Florida Bowl in 2010, routing the Ohio Stallions, 71-40. Their last two trips to the national championship game resulted in losses — 22-12 to the Carolina Eagles in 2011 and 35-14 to the Western Michigan Force last year.

Porcelli’s no-nonsense approach is part of the reason for the team’s success.

“This isn’t the NFL or Arena football, but I tell my players to act like professionals,” said Porcelli. “A lot of guys have played for a few years now, and I ask them to work hard and be on time. I know it’s a cliche, but the teamwork and camaradarie are very good.

“I want to get away from the perception that this is a beer league, or we’re just weekend warriors. I think because I’ve played at a high level, I know what it takes to be successful. If you’re not doing it the right way, don’t do it at all. No one is just going to show up on Saturday and play a game.”

The Irish run the double-wing that Porcelli was so successful with at Lansingburgh, and the strength of the offense is in the backfield, which features former Lansingburgh standout Kenny Youngs; Andre McCauley, who has had three straight 1,000 rushing seasons; Neal Keels; Brandon Cantry; Reggie Browne of Schenectady; and Ryan Sheldon, a former wrestling champion at Albany High School, a team that Porcelli also coached. The Irish also picked up Elijah White from the Amsterdam Zephyrs, which folded at the end of the 2012 campaign.

Versatile Jahmel Traver of Schen­ectady is expected to take over at quarterback, and will operate behind a line anchored by four-year center Alan Preston, Billy Rios of Schenectady and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons graduate Sean Maille.

Limemen Rayquan Shaw and Mel Allen; linebackers Mark Hilton (Schalmont), Joey Hall (another ex-Zephyr) and Joe Fleuriot (Watervliet); and backs James Mizzero (Mohonasen), Fermin Gonzales, Zack Deering (Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk) and Chris Will­iams, who played at Colgate, will anchor the defense.

“This year, we had a few guys retire, but the core of the team is still there,” said Porcelli, whose team was 12-1 overall last year. “We should get better as the season progresses, but there will be a lot of question marks for the first game.”

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