BURNT HILLS — Coaches at all levels of sports make the case they are never afraid of stiff competition, often stating, “To be the best, you have to beat the best.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell didn’t request one of the toughest schedules to start this fall season for his Spartan football squad — but his team certainly got that. That schedule starts this coming Friday when Class A Burnt Hills takes on Class AA Shenendehowa in a Week 0 scrimmage of programs that haven’t faced off in quite some time.
The last meeting was part of Shell’s early years at Burnt Hills.
“When I was coaching under [retired head coach] Ed Ronca we faced Shen and then maybe my first or second year we faced Shen,” Shell said. “But that was 20 years ago.”
On Sept. 10 the Spartans will face another Class AA opponent when it plays Shaker on the road.
“We’ve had some AA opponents in the past — Shaker, Schenectady, Bethlehem,” Shell said. “It hasn’t been a lot. That makes for a tough schedule, but this year’s schedule right out the gate is going to be a good one.”
After playing Shaker, Burnt Hills then opens up its Class A slate at home against Troy in a rematch of last season’s area championship game, which Troy won. Then, the Spartans travel the next week to take on another Class AA opponent in Rush-Henrietta.
“We had an open date in our schedule, you send out that date to the other sections to see who’s available,” Shell said. “That’s how we got Rush-Henrietta [Section V, Class AA].”
With no rest for the weary, the Spartans return to the Capital Region to travel to take on Queensbury the following Saturday afternoon.
“I’m excited for it. I know the kids are excited,” Shell said. “They’ve worked really hard over the summer.”
Spartan senior running back Mike Puglisi has never faced the Plainsmen on the gridiron, but his parents and family friends are excited to see the neighboring teams square off — even in the controlled environment of a scrimmage.
“We know they’re Class AA and they’re going to be bigger and faster,” Puglisi said. “It doesn’t get us down. We’re going to prepare how we normally prepare and just get ready.”
During the 2020-21 academic year, “high” risk fall sports — including football — were not permitted to take place during their regular position in the calendar, moving instead to an abbreviated “Fall II” season held during March and April.
The quick turnaround may help Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake with its early gauntlet of contests.
“There are a lot of good seniors back from the spring. We’re predominantly a senior team right now,” Shell said. “We only had two senior starters in the spring. It was all underclassmen, and they all got a lot of experience in the spring.”