Niskayuna prepares for first state tournament appearance

Niskayuna running back Isaiah Linyear runs with the football during the Silver Warriors 35-6 win over Averill Park Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at Christian Brothers Academy field in Colonie, winning its first-ever sectional title.

Niskayuna running back Isaiah Linyear runs with the football during the Silver Warriors 35-6 win over Averill Park Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022 at Christian Brothers Academy field in Colonie, winning its first-ever sectional title.

NISKAYUNA — Ethan Gilson and his Niskayuna teammates didn’t mind practicing in the cold earlier this week as they prepared for the team’s first state tournament appearance.

“You always aspire to play in this weather,” said Gilson, the Silver Warriors sophomore quarterback. “It means you’ve accomplished a lot.”

Niskayuna has certainly done that with an eight-game win streak that has the first-time Section II champs among New York’s final eight Class A teams.

Niskayuna will be playing a Canandaigua Academy team that has been this far many times before Friday at 7 p.m. at Shenendehowa’s Steuerwald Stadium. What’s the same is their 9-2 records, the red and gray uniforms they’ll wear, and, of course, a strong desire to keep on playing for as long as possible.

“We know every team here is good. That’s just a fact,” Niskayuna senior offensive guard Ame Bender said. “We have to play physical. Have our offense running like a machine.”

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Niskayuna defeated Averill Park last week 35-6 to gain its state quarterfinal berth while Canandaigia moved on by beating East/World of Inquiry 28-6 in the Section V A2 title game.

“We are going to play a real good football team. Rochester football is good. They have a strong program,” Niskayuna coach Brian Grastorf said of the Braves. “I’ve talked to some people I know that way and we’ll be facing some tough kids.”

Tysheed Crockton was Canandaigua’s star player against East/WOI with 310 rushing yards and four touchdowns as the senior helped his team avenge a regular-season 26-21 loss to East/WOI. 

Canandaigua also knocked off Greece Arcadia 34-8 and Eastridge 33-19 in the Section V A2 tournament. Niskayuna’s other Section II postseason game was a 28-0 semifinal win over La Salle. 

“They’ve had good success in the sectionals. They can run,” Niskayuna sophomore linebacker Garrett Gillooley said. “We watched some game film and he [Crockton] found seams and ran hard. If we can shut him down it will give us a better chance to be successful.”

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Niskayuna’s defense has allowed 18 points in its four previous games, and stymied Averill Park after it scored to make it 7-6 early in the Super Bowl.

“We played real well on offense and were able to keep them [Averill Park] off the field,” Grastorf said. “Our defense gave up a big play and fought back. It was on to the next series. They’ve been like that all year.”

Niskayuna has gotten better and better on both sides this year, and starting sophomore tailback Isaiah Linyear credited a cast of players that have done their best work during the week.. 

“It’s the guys on the scout team,” said Linyear, who capped the Super Bowl scoring with a touchdown run in the second half. “In my eyes, they are a big reason why we are where we are. Guys like 16 [Lou Chicatelli], 55 [ Kyle Smith], 11 [James Soule], 34 [Valen Beckmann]. Everyone has a role.”

Niskayuna’s offensive group filled their role with touchdowns on four straight possessions to start the Super Bowl. On the first play, Linyear took a handoff and ran up the middle, stopped, and pitched the ball back to Gilson who found senior Dahvion Wimberly deep for a 69-yard score.

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“The first play, we all knew we were going to run it,” Niskayuna senior linebacker Gavin Pendergast said. “The momentum carried us through the game.”

After Averill Park answered on a TD run by Jocob Phelps, freshman Cameron and senior DeAngelo McGlothlan ran for Niskayuna TDs, and McGlothlan caught a scoring pass from Gilson.

“On offense we’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Grastorf said. “Drive the ball and keep them off the field. And any time you’re in playoff situations, you can’t turn the ball over and hope to get a turnover or two.”

McGlothlan and junior linebacker Chase Nappi turned interceptions into touchdown returns in the  La Salle semifinal win, while McGlothlan also ran for a TD and Wimberly scored on a pass from Gilson.

“I have trust in my guys. Everyone can make a play,” Gilson said. “As we’ve gone along, that trust has become even stronger.”

Linyear said none of the big plays happen without the big boys up front.

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“Our linemen are very coachable. They’re always looking to get better,” Linyear said. “They have a lot of tasks, and they stay on top of it.”

Niskayuna will be looking for Section II’s first state tournament Class A win since Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake beat Massena in 2016. Canandaigua, which has won four straight Section V titles and 12 in all, last posted a state tournament win in the 2019 Class A quarterfinals against South Park. The Braves won the Class A state title in 1999.

The Niskayuna-Canandaigua winner will play either Somers (Section I, 10-0) or Our Lady of Lourdes (Section IX, 10-1) in the state semifinal round a week from Friday at Middletown.

Canandaigua coach Jeff Welch is the son of former Ithaca College coach Mike Welch. Grastorf played quarterback for Mike Welch and the Bombers from 2006-09.

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