Phonsey Lambert picked up his 463rd varsity victory Friday night as a head coach at Saratoga Central Catholic, but this one it was unlike any other.
With three touchdowns in quick successon, his Saints gained control and beat Whitehall in a Class D football game, 49-20, for the school’s first varsity win since the 1987 season.
The Saints won their final game that season against Corinth, 33-18, to close out at 1-7, and went 0-7 in 1988 before the program was disbanded due to a lack of players. From
1984-88, the Saints’ record was
“That was a fantastic win. To see their faces, they were just so happy,” said Lambert, who brought football back to the school and coached its modified team in 2006 and its junior varsity team in 2007. “They finally tasted it.”
Saratoga Catholic and Whitehall were both 0-6 heading into the contest at East Side Recreation Field. Shane Matthews scored four touchdowns for the Saints, while Jack Keller, Nick Valenze and
David Mulcahy sparked a defensive group that gave up two touchdowns, the second with the game well in hand.
“They sensed that this was their opportunity. This was their Super Bowl,” said Lambert. “We had been through a tough couple of weeks. We went to Bishop Gibbons and had some disappointment there, and we were so outmanned against Lake George. How the kids stayed together, it’s really an amazing thing.”
Matthews excelled in only his third game with the Saints, rushing for 226 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. The senior’s 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown began his team’s spurt of 21 unanswered points in the first quarter.
“He came up to me after the Rensselaer game and said he wanted to play. He said he couldn’t stand to see his schoolmates go through this,” Lambert said of Matthews, who recently made a verbal commitment to play baseball at Division I Marist College. “He had never played football before, and he’s only about 5-8 and 160 pounds, but he’s a great runner, he has great instincts and he’s tough as nails. He initiates hits.”
Matthews’ kickoff return came after Whitehall turned a botched punt snap into a long touchdown pass, and, combined with a two-point conversion, had taken an 8-0 lead.
“They scored, and we answered right away with the kickoff return. That picked us up,” said Lambert. “Jordan Stubblebine had an interception to set up our second touchdown [a three-yard run by Matthews], and Jack Keller jumped on a fumble in the end zone for our third. Momentum switched real fast, and we started to take control.”
Lambert said having Keller in the lineup helped considerably. The sophomore, who plays guard, linebacker and defensive end, had missed four previous games with a broken finger.
“He’s our best offensive lineman and probably our best defensive player,” Lambert said of the 6-2, 185-pound sophomore. “He made an impact on both sides. He made some key blocks, and had a couple of sacks and nine tackles.”
Keller scored when Dylan Anderson fumbled on a quarterback sneak. Matthews added touchdown runs of one and 63 yards in the second quarter, and in the third, Anderson hit Brennan Haley for a 19-yard score and Mulcahy gained the end zone on a two-yard surge.
“Coaches from all over Section II have been calling,” Lambert said Saturday. “The first call was from by buddy Craig [Phillips, Fort Plain’s baseball coach]. That was probably around nine this morning, and they’ve been coming all day.”
Saratoga Catholic opened the season with losses against Canajoharie (35-0), Rensselaer (43-7), Warrensburg (26-6), Greenwich (20-14), Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons (60-19) and Lake George (39-0) before the breakthrough triumph, which boosted Lambert’s varsity coaching total by one.
Lambert has 345 victories with the school’s varsity baseball team, and ended his run with Saratoga Catholic’s varsity girls’ basketball team several years ago owning 117 wins.
“My assistant coach, Murry O’Neil, won 131 games with Burnt Hills,” Lambert said. “When I told him I needed 130 to catch him, he just started cracking up. We’re all having a good time with it.”