SCHENECTADY — Niskayuna’s defense put the finishing touches on a playoff masterpiece Friday night to complement the offense that had provided a lead.
With both units collaborating in drought-ending performance, the Silver Warriors defeated La Salle Institute 28-0 in a Section II Class A semifinal football game at Schenectady’s Larry Mulvaney Field.
Chase Nappi took back a third-quarter interception 65 yards for a score, and DeAngelo McGlothlan did the same thing from 18 yards away in the final frame as part of Niskayuna’s first playoff win since the 2010 season, and its first triumph in the semifinal round since the 1996 campaign.
”I thank them after every game,” Niskayuna sophomore quarterback Ethan Gilson said of the Niskayuna defense that pinned down Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake last week before blanking the Cadets.
McGlothlan scored the only touchdown Niskayuna needed in what was its school record-tying eighth win with a 4-yard run early in the second quarter, and Dahvion Wimberly began the add-on TDs with a 12-yard reception late in that period.
“These guys are putting everything together,” Niskayuna coach Brian Grastorf said. “It’s good to see that. In the beginning of the year we knew we had a talented group but we had a lot of young guys and guys in new positions. Coaches coach, but the guys have to get it done on the field, and they have.”
Niskayuna (Grasso Division No. 1 seed, 8-2) has gotten it done for seven straight weeks now and will take that streak into next Saturday’s Class A championship game against Averill Park (Capital Division No. 1, 7-3) at Christian Brothers Academy.
That streak began after Niskayuna had lost to La Salle 25-7 on Sept. 16 to slip to 1-2. Niskayuna lost the week before that, too, 21-7 to Saratoga Springs.
“We didn’t put ourselves down about that,” McGlothlan, a senior wide receiver and defensive back, said of the Silver Warriors’ start. “We kept fighting and kept playing the game we love.”
“This is great for the team. This is great for the school. This is great for our community,” Grastorf said. “In the locker room we believed in ourselves. I’m sure a lot of people weren’t sure of us.”
Niskayuna’s only Section II Super Bowl appearance in 1996 ended in a 38-0 Class A loss to Troy, while its last playoff success before Friday came from 2008-10 with a trio of quarterfinal wins that were followed by semifinal setbacks each time.
Niskayuna’s 2008 season ended with a semifinal loss to Schenectady on the same field that it prevailed on Friday night. Niskayuna wasn’t able to play a home game this season due to construction on its new field.
“I’m so excited,” Gilson, a sophomore quarterback, said after Niskayuna’s upbeat post-game huddle. “I’m really happy for the seniors because of all the work they’ve put in. They make my job easier.”
McGlothlan took a pitch from Gilson and ran to the end zone in the second quarter, capping a drive that included a 12-yard run by Isaiah Linyear and a 22-yard catch by Wimberly. Cooper Harvey then added the first of his four PATs.
Wimberly scored his touchdown after catching a pass on a crossing pattern and finding the end zone one play after Cameron Grasso snagged a 9-yard reception on fourth-and-5.
“All parts of our game are coming together,” McGlothlan said. “It’s everything.”
Nappi went 65 yards to the end zone after picking off La Salle quarterback Adam Myers, and McGlothlan covered his 18 yards with another interception of Myers.
La Salle managed nine rushing yards while Myers’ 10 completions on 22 attempts resulted in 53 yards. La Salle (Capital Division No. 2, 5-5) played the game without injured standout runner Matt Bott, who had scored a pair of touchdowns when the Cadets topped the Silver Warriors earlier in the season.
“Our defense is tough, physical and makes plays,” Grastorf said. “You saw that tonight.”
Niskayuna also had a strong showing from its special teams units, including a punt from Nappi that traveled 68 yards, and a fumble recovery on a La Salle punt return by Ryan Smith.
Linyear ran 19 times for 45 yards, and Gilson was 4-for-9 for 45 yards.
Niskayuna earned the home semifinal game last week when it beat Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake for the Grasso Division title 9-6. Harvey supplied all of Niskayuna’s points with three field goals including a last-second, 37-yarder.
That win pushed Niskayuna into the state sportswriter rankings at No. 24, while La Salle came into Friday’s contest with honorable mention status after losing 41-14 to Amsterdam last week and 27-21 in overtime to Averill Park the week before.
Averill Park defeated Burnt Hills (Grasso Division No. 2, 6-3) Friday in the other Class A semifinal 42-21, and, like Niskayuna, will be in search of its first area championship next week.
Averill Park outscored Burnt Hills 28-7 in the second half to break open what was a 14-14 game through two quarters. Jacob Phelps starred for Averill Park with a kickoff return for a touchdown, a 91-yard touchdown run and a 57-yard scoring pass to Jake Rizzo. Shawn Ratigan added a pair of touchdown runs. Luke Zoller had a pair of touchdown runs for Burnt Hills.
La Salle 0 0 0 0 — 0
Niskayuna 0 14 7 7 — 28
N — McGlothlan 4 run (Harvey kick)
N — Wimberly 12 pass from Gilson (Harvey kick)
N — Nappi 65 interception return (Harvey kick)
N — McGlothlan 18 interception return (Harvey kick)