The Niskayuna football team may have found its identity last week in a Class AA loss at Columbia.
Sophomore Aidan O’Brien ran for 160 yards and scored three touchdowns, and the Silver Warriors hung with the Blue Devils for more than a half before the defending Liberty Division champions sprung a couple of big plays in a 46-18 victory.
“I came away with a sense that we can run the ball. We found out a lot about ourselves, much more than we learned when we played Saratoga the week before,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey. “It was a tougher game against Columbia. They have a little more size and speed, and we learned we have a capable ground game.”
Niskayuna intends to stick with it, starting with a non-league game at home tonight against Class A Gloversville.
“I know some things about Gloversville, but our emphasis is going to be on ourselves growing and getting better,” said Furey. “We’ve decided to emphasize our running attack. We’ve made some moves and changed some things more toward the run game, and we’re gearing up for it.
“We want to put ourselves in good formations and have good play design, and see what comes out of it.”
Niskayuna has been known for its passing exploits in recent years, with quarterbacks Brian Grastorf, Danny Peters, Kyle Bayly, Rob Singleton and their receivers putting up some huge numbers. Grastorf, Bayly and Singleton own the top three single-game passing marks in Section II history.
“The last few years, we could throw the ball all over the place,” Furey said. “When we were able to run the ball to go with that, we had our most success.”
Run first and pass second is the new plan as Niskayuna strives for what would be a school-record fifth consecutive winning season, and a Section II playoff spot that eluded the Silver Warriors a year ago.
Niskayuna follows tonight’s contest with the meat of its Liberty Division schedule, first hosting LaSalle before traveling to Colonie and Shaker and then entertaining Schenectady.
“If we could go into LaSalle on a roll, it would certainly be a plus for us,” said Furey. “I’d like to see us control the line of scrimmage
[tonight]. Give us some momentum going into that game. I’d like to build off something positive.”
Furey saw some positives in the Columbia game.
“We played a Columbia team that is big and tough up front and has good linebackers, and we ran. That was a good sign for us, for sure. We were very effective running the ball. That’s where we were strong,” he said. “I think if we can run against Columbia, we can run against a lot of people.”
Niskayuna’s offensive line includes 6-foot-6, 285-pound guard Mike Struzzi, as well as John Schuler, Josh Sanzo, Grant Smith and Stephen Van Hoesen.
“Last week, we grew by leaps and bounds. Our offensive line pulled together,” said Furey. “They didn’t get the results, in terms of a win, and I think it’s important to see that. I want to see a win as a result of their work.”
O’Brien ran for over 100 yards in two season-ending wins in 2011 against Bethlehem and Guilderland before opening this year with a
216-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 38-14 triumph at Saratoga Springs. O’Brien will line up at several positions, including quarterback, where Uwem Akpanikat and Chris Herman will also see action.
Herman threw a scoring pass to Akpanikat in the Saratoga game, Troy Garr ran for two touchdowns, and Ryan Congdon added a TD run.
“We’ve got a nice group up front and a couple of kids who can run the ball,” said Furey. “It’s not only Aidan back there.”
Furey believes sustained drives will aid his defensive cast that’s led by Van Hoesen at tackle and linebackers Tyler Pantalone, Nikko Sacks and Ben Perreault.
“If you can take control of a game offensively, one thing leads to another,” he said. “It helps your defense, not only in terms of field position, but it also gives guys a good breather. They’re fresher.”
Gloversville opened its season with a Class A Northwest split, beating Bishop Maginn (44-20) before last week’s 39-21 loss to Scotia-Glenville. Gloversville and Niskayuna last met in a 1999 sectional semifinal game won by the Huskies.
Columbia (2-0, 2-0) hosts Shaker (1-0, 2-0) tonight in a game matching the Liberty Divison leaders. The Blue Bison edged the Blue Devils to begin last season, 32-28, and Columbia hasn’t lost a division game since, including its 32-31 win at Schenectady to begin this campaign.
Schenectady bounced back with a 34-27 victory at Ballston Spa, pulling that game out on fourth-quarter touchdowns by Hassan Rainey and Feliz Rodriguez.
“In spurts, we played good defense, but we have to be more consistent,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer, whose team has not held an opponent under 20 points since Week 5 of last year. “We have to get better on defense, and also on offense and special teams. You’re always looking to improve. We’re getting after it the best we can.”
Schenectady (0-1, 1-1) travels to Colonie (1-1, 1-1) for tonight’s other Liberty Division matchup.
Empire Division front-runner Shenendehowa (2-0, 2-0) and Christian Brothers Academy (2-0, 2-0) play at Bethlehem (1-1, 1-1) and host LaSalle (0-1, 1-1), respectively. Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson said he’s been impressed with first-year quarterback Ryan Buss, who has led the defending Section II Class AA champions to 58- and 34-point outings.
“Ryan is so diverse as a quarterback. He’s developing into a pocket passer, and he still has that abilty to break out of the pocket and run,” Clawson said of the senior. “He’s such an intelligent QB. He’s only going to get better.”
Schalmont (1-0, 1-1) returns to Class B West Division play tonight at home against Schuylerville (1-0, 1-1). The Sabres saw their 29-game Section II win streak halted by Class A Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake last week, 37-0.
“They recovered a pooch kick and a fumble [in the fourth quarter] and that helped them add to their lead. You can’t make mistakes against good teams like that. They’ll capitalize,” said Schalmont coach Joe Whipple. “Hopefully, we learned from that experience.”