MIDDLETOWN — Niskayuna was in uncharted territory with the school’s first trip to the NYSPHSAA state semifinals Friday.
Though the Silver Warriors’ magical run ended with a 35-7 loss to Somers at Middletown High School’s Faller Field, sophomore running back Isaiah Linyear said no one should hang their heads after the season-ending defeat.
“This is an experience that no one else in Niskayuna history has ever accomplished,” Linyear said following a long and emotional meeting with the coaches in the end zone following the contest. “I think being able to play here on this Friday night is an amazing feeling. It didn’t come out the way we wanted it to, but we really came together as a family this season.”
Niskayuna (10-3) advanced out of Section II for the first time and got to within one victory of making it all the way to the JMA Wireless Dome to play for a state championship.
But the Silver Warriors ran into a buzzsaw Friday vs. Section I power Somers (12-0), a school that won the state title in 2016 and lost to Christian Brothers Academy of Syracuse 32-31 in last year’s state final when it failed to convert a 2-point conversion in the final minutes.
Things went haywire on the opening kickoff. Niskayuna didn’t field the kick when it hit a gust of wind, and Mac Sullivan recovered it for Somers at the Silver Warriors’ 21. Three plays later, Somers senior quarterback Matt Fitzsimons hit running back Ravi Dass with a 10-yard scoring toss to make it 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.
The Silver Warriors’ offense went three plays and out on three straight possessions in the first quarter.
Somers increased its lead to 14-0 on Fitzsimons’
30-yard TD toss to wide-open running back Luke Savino down the right sideline with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. It was the first time in six games that Niskayuna’s defense had given up more than one touchdown in a game.
Linyear gave Niskayuna a sudden jolt of energy when he burst through the right side and ran untouched for a 59-yard TD to cut the deficit to 14-7 with 7:53 left in the second quarter.
And with Somers driving in the final minutes of the half, Niskayuna safety Shane Bracken came up with a huge interception off a deflection to halt the drive inside the Silver Warriors’ 5-yard line with 26 seconds remaining before halftime.
The second half was all Somers, though, as Fitzsimons completed three more touchdown passes and Niskayuna could never generate any offense.
Linyear finished with 68 yards rushing on 10 carries. Silver Warriors quarterbacks Ethan Gilson and Cameron Grasso combined to go 1-for-12 through the air.
Fitzsimons had a field day against Niskayuna’s pass defense. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 213 yards and five touchdowns.
Dass hauled in three of the TD receptions, including two in the second half.
In spite of the loss, Niskayuna coach Brian Grastorf had nothing but praise for his team that had won nine straight after starting 1-2.
“This team set the standard and the expectation of what we want in Niskayuna,” he said. “We have the ability to do it year in and year out. What we have accomplished still hasn’t settled in. I wish it could be more but I’m super proud of these guys.”
Trailing 14-7 at the half, Niskayuna’s pass defense gave up two TD passes from Fitzsimons in the first seven minutes of the third quarter to fall behind 28-7. Fitzsimons hit Dass on a 35-yard TD pass to make it 21-7 and then found Nick Conti from 19 yards out to up the lead to 28-7.
Dass hauled in a 35-yard pass over the middle for his third TD pass from Fitzsimons to make it 35-7 early in the fourth quarter to put the game completely out of Niskayuna’s reach.