Schenectady’s first crack at one of the Class AA Liberty Division’s premier teams ended with a superb fourth-quarter comeback, but ultimately, a one-point loss to Columbia.
The Patriots get another chance to take down a division heavyweight tonight when they host unbeaten Shaker at Larry Mulvaney Field.
“It’s Week 4, and we have a shot to play for first place. That’s our motivation. Some teams don’t get that opportunity,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer. “We’re excited to play in this game, and I believe we’re more than ready for the challenge.”
Shaker will present Schenectady with that challenge, coming in with three wins, each by at least four touchdowns, and a No. 10 state ranking. The Blue Bison slugged Columbia last week, 47-12 — the same Columbia team that held off Schenectady, 32-31, to open the season.
“They’re playing as good as any team in the area right now,” Kramer said. “They’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of pieces to their puzzle that make them go.”
Schenectady (1-1, 2-1) can go to the top of the division standings with a successful outing, creating a tie with Shaker (2-0, 3-0) and Columbia (2-1, 2-1). Columbia has a crossover game with Guilderland tonight.
“We’ve stressed to the kids to not get caught up in all of that stuff, and play football,” said Kramer. “We’ve shown glimpses of being fantastic, and other times, we haven’t done some things as well as we could have. We have to have four quarters of consistent play, and we’re capable of that. If we put four together, and we’ll be in the game.”
The Patriots prevailed at Shaker last year for one of their three division wins, 21-19, yet are striving for more this fall. Their push began with a 34-27 comeback win againt Ballston Spa, and last week’s 33-21 win over Colonie when Felix Rodriguez produced touchdowns by running, receiving and with an interception return.
“We talked about goals in the beginning of the year,” Kramer said. “Winning this game will help us chase down one of those those goals.”
Shaker, on the other hand, will be trying to create further separation from the division pack with its standout cast that includes quarterback Chris Landers, running back Ryan Griffin and 6-foot-4, 270-pound all-state lineman David Morrison.
“We have to control the football, and part of that means no turnovers. Defensively, we have to mix up our looks and tackle well in the open field,” said Shaker coach Greg Sheeler. “They’ve got kids who can really move in the open field and do damage.”
Rodriguez leads all Class AA players with 10 touchdowns, six of them coming on passes from Kwame Jarvis, while Schenectady also has offensive threats in running back Hassan Rainey and receivers Trent Wheeler, Alex Phann and Jeremy Kent. Phann caught a scoring pass last week, and Rainey bolted 80 yards for the clinching touchdown.
Rainey delivered the deciding touchdown in Schenectady’s win at Shaker last season, a game in which Rodriguez and Phann also reached the end zone.
“We’re spreading the ball around to a lot of people, and it starts with Kwame,” said Kramer. “If teams are going to try to concentrate on certain guys, we’ve got other guys who can make plays.”
Jarvis leads Section II with 625 passing yards, and the senior quarterback’s seven touchdown passes are tied for the area best.
“He’s one of the best passers I’ve seen in the last couple of years,” said Sheeler. “He presents a great challenge for us. I don’t want to see him throwing the ball all over the place.”
Shaker’s offensive cast includes running back Kenny Jackson and Tyler Oppent, and receivers Mike Mainella and Mike Lewis. In all, nine different players have scored touchdowns for the Blue Bison, led by Griffin’s six and Landers’ five.
“We’re looking at a team with great line play and plenty of skill kids, a mobile quarterback and a fast, aggressive defense,” said Kramer. “Their defensive unit has only given up a handful of touchdowns all year. As successful as their offense has been, their defense has been better. They’ve gotten teams off the field and given them opportunities to score.”
Tackle Schuyler Huntington, a three-year starter, is among Shaker’s defensive leaders.
“They’ve got some proven names,” said Kramer. “We have some kids who want to prove their names.”
Unbeaten teams will collide tonight in the Class B Reinfurt Division when Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (3-0, 3-0) hosts Albany Academy (3-0, 3-0), and in the Class D South Division when Canajoharie (0-0, 3-0) entertains Rensselaer (0-0, 3-0). A Saturday matchup pitting Class C South Division unbeatens will send Chatham (2-0, 3-0) to Fonda-Fultonville (2-0, 2-0).
Fonda-Fultonville used a 33-20 win over Chatham last year as a springboard to the division title and a spot in the Section II Class C title game.
Johnstown will forfeit its final four Class B West Division games, due to low player numbers.
The Sir Bills had 17 players available for last week’s game against Tamarac, and four of them sustained injuries during that 6-0 loss. The state requirement for varsity football teams is a minimum of 16 players.
Citing safety concerns, the school opted not to elevate junior varsity players so the varsity could complete its season. Johnstown was scheduled to play at Glens Falls Saturday, with follow-up division games against Hudson Falls, Schalmont and Schuylerville. Johnstown was 0-3, having lost its first two contests to Broadalbin-Perth (53-8) and Cobleskill-Richmondville (49-21).
Saratoga Catholic forfeited three games last season when its player numbers dwindled. Cairo-Durham decided not to compete this season or in 2011 due to a player shortage.