BURNT HILLS — Playing a football game for the first time in more than 16 months, it took Caeden LaPietro and his Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake teammates a bit Friday night against Ballston Spa to settle into their old, familiar feeling.
“We had to figure ourselves out,” LaPietro said. “First time out here in over a year, figuring ourselves out was the biggest part of the game.”
There were some sloppy moments from both sides early — each team turned the ball over on its first offensive series — but LaPietro and the Spartans’ offense connected on a couple big plays to give the team a spark, and the defense came up with a pair of crucial goal-line stands following long Ballston Spa drives before Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 35-12 Class A Grasso Division win on the opening night of the Section II “Fall II” football season.
LaPietro, who has switched to quarterback this season after starring for the Spartans at running back in 2019, led the way both as a passer and a runner Friday night. The senior completed 5 of 7 passes for 118 yards, including a 58-yard touchdown to Rocco Mareno on his first completion, and added a game-high 85 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
“It’s good to be out here either way. Running back, quarterback, whatever,” LaPietro said. “I’m just happy to be out here.”
On both sidelines, there was a sense of relief and excitement to be back on the gridiron after the season had long seemed to be in doubt.
Friday was the kickoff to the Fall II football season after the sport was postponed from its usual place on the calendar due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“I think all the kids are excited and all the coaches are excited to have that opportunity, because nothing was guaranteed,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell said. “Just to get to this night, get to the opening whistle and get the clock going; I think that was a victory, too, just to get teams out playing, showing everybody that we can do it. We can be safe and still do it, and the kids can compete and have fun. That’s what it’s all about.”
The coronavirus pandemic still had an effect on the start of the season, as Ballston Spa was only able to field a 24-player roster, with 10 players unavailable due to COVID quarantine restrictions.
“We’re down a whole bunch, actually,” Ballston Spa coach Greg O’Connor said. “Hopefully, we get some of them back at practice Monday. They come off [quarantine] Saturday or Sunday, I think, and we’ll get some guys back.”
In a game that was tightly contested until late, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake defense came up with stands in both the second and third quarters that sapped Ballston Spa’s momentum.
After Burnt Hills went up 7-0 in the first quarter, Ballston Spa held the ball for the next 10-and-a-half minutes, only for the Spartans’ defense to hold and force a missed field goal attempt. An 89-yard touchdown drive capped off by Jaleel Joseph’s 6-yard run put Burnt Hills up 14-0 at the half.
Coming out of halftime, Ballston Spa reeled off a 16-play drive that lasted more than nine minutes, but the Burnt Hills defense stuffed Greg Dort on fourth-and-goal to deny the Scotties yet again.
“The defense did a great job the whole game of stopping them,” LaPietro said. “Even on those long drives that take a while and exhaust you, they got it done in the long run.”
Ballston Spa finally broke through early in the fourth quarter on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Kramer to Owen Walsh, but Burnt Hills responded with three scores in a six-minute stretch — runs from LaPietro and Jake Pausley, and an interception return by Michael Puglisi — to put things out of reach and cap off the long wait to play in winning fashion.
“It was good to know, a couple months ago, that we were going to get back out here and finally have it happen,” LaPietro said. “To get through that first game, no problems at all, it was great.”
Ballston Spa 0 0 0 12—12
Burnt Hills 7 7 0 21—35
BH — Mareno 58 pass from LaPietro (Sbuttoni kick)
BH — Joseph 6 run (Sbuttoni kick)
BS — Walsh 25 pass from Kramer (Run fail)
BH — LaPietro 8 run (Sbuttoni kick)
BH — Pausley 1 run (Sbuttoni kick)
BH — Puglisi 35 interception return (Sbuttoni kick)
BS — Guarino 85 kickoff return (Pass fail)