Christian Brothers Academy football coach Joe Burke believes this might be the right time for a major breakthrough.
He likes his young team’s demeanor and the way his players have performed. Being at home and having overcome adversity to win last week, he likes that, too.
“We have a chance to contend,” said Burke. “We’re running the football. I believe we’ve done a pretty good job controlling the line of scrimmage against the teams we’ve played to date. Our defense has played well, too. We haven’t given up too many big plays. We hope to continue that.”
That physical formula could lead to CBA’s first Class AA Empire Division title, and first outright league championship of any kind since the Brothers copped the Big 10 title in 1995. Shenendehowa (5-0, 5-1) travels to CBA (5-0, 6-0) for tonight’s televised game looking for the Empire top spot, as well, and the No. 1 playoff seed that comes with it.
“Our guys know it’s a big game. This the first time a CBA football team has been 6-0 in a long time, and we have a chance to win the division on the last day,” said Burke. “I needed to remind them a few times earlier this year not to peek ahead. We try to talk about each team each week, but now we’re here. We’re talking about Shenendehowa.”
CBA and Shenendehowa were both unbeaten entering their Week 6 game last season, and momentum swung the Plainsmen’s way when a fake punt led to a touchdown late in the first half. The Brothers failed to cut into the Plainsmen’s 21-0 lead soon after and again early in the third quarter when good drives stalled, and the hosts pulled away for a 42-0 win on then-coach Brent Steuerwald’s send-off tribute night.
Shenendehowa celebrated another big night at CBA’s expense in 2009 with Steuerwald’s 300th victory (34-0), and has won seven consecutive games against the Brothers in all. CBA last defeated Shenendehowa during the 1999 season.
“I watched film of last year’s game. We made a couple of mistakes late in the first half, and it got away from us. We were too amped up, and we ended up taking our lumps like we have before,” said Burke. “This year, our group is more laid back. They don’t play into the drama of a game. They don’t get too down or too up, and that should help us.”
CBA stayed cool last week, despite fumbling the ball away three times, and finally got past Ballston Spa on Max Anthony’s seven-yard touchdown run with 29 seconds left, 12-6.
“We haven’t done that all year long. We went right down the field and lost the ball. Then we did it two more times,” said Burke. “We’ve got a lot of juniors playing at this time — we only have eight seniors — and they stayed the course and won the game. It was nerve-racking, and they handled it.”
Veteran Cameron Wynn scored his team-high eighth touchdown against Ballston Spa, and joins with Anthony, Spencer Hall and Elliot Croskey to give the Brothers a rebuilt and versitile backfield to work behind Mike Zaloga, Vince DiBiase, Tyler Leppanen, Griffin Clark and Dave Zaccaria.
“We want to control the ball and drive it a bit. Create some space for our backs to work with. Move the ball. Get first downs and not be so concerned about the big play,” said Burke. “Maybe I was trying too hard to make things happen [in last year’s game]. We’re taking a different approach from an offensive standpoint.”
“They like to run the football, but we have to expect the unexpected,” said first-year Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson. “They’ve got a very good quarterback, and we have to be prepared for him, as well as their backs and their big offensive line.”
CBA’s brand of ball-control offense produced great results in wins over Bethlehem (61-26), Saratoga Springs (26-6), LaSalle (50-14), Albany (46-6) and Guilderland (25-14). Quarterback Troy Anthony found Connor Crotty with five touchdown passes to complement the running game.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve been doing, but we’ve got to bring it up a notch,” said Burke. “We have to control the football, and we have to make sure we slow their run. And when their guys go out for a pass, our guys have to be aware that they’re a little faster than what we’ve seen. On special teams we have to kick the ball to the right spots. We don’t want to give up a score and have all the momentum change like it can in a big game like this.”
Shenendehowa overwhelmed Saratoga with its speed last week in a 49-0 win, when Corey Acker scored on a 49-yard run and Kyle Buss returned a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown.
“They’re a different team from the past in that they have a lot of speed,” said Burke. “They’ve always had speed, but they don’t have the [Tony] Fusco or [Bronson] Greene-type of runner that can run you over and you need three guys to bring him down. Really, they’re a bunch of scatbacks, and they’ve added a few wrinkles that they’ll use to go with the old stuff they’ve kept.”
Ryan Buss added touchdown passes of 50 yards to D.J. Edick and 38 yards to Kory Felix last week after missing two games with an ankle injury.
“Ryan is the unquestioned leader of our football team. He brings a special presense,” said Clawson. “To have him back in command is a big lift for our team.”
Shaker pinned Shenendehowa down in its Week 5 35-8 triumph over the Plainsmen.
“We learned from our mistakes. We addressed some issues in the film room and in practice,” said Clawson. “To come out and respond like we did [against Saratoga] is something we want to build on.
“There’s a renewed hunger with our football team. The Shaker game was a wake-up call,” Clawson added. “To see the way the guys came back and worked was very encouraging.”
The defending Section II Class AA champions roared past Ballston Spa (49-7), Bethlehem (57-0), Guilderland (34-0) and Albany (58-6) before that setback at Shaker.
“Shaker dominated the line of scrimmage. Their big guys caused havoc and Shenendehowa never got started,” said Burke. “Their runners ran as hard as they could and never found space. We’d like to emulate that kind of performance.”
Troy (3-0, 4-2) goes to Mohonasen (1-2, 2-4) tonight in search of a perfect Class A Southeast Division finish. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (4-0, 5-1) wrapped up the Class A Northwest flag last week, and travels to Class AA Columbia (3-2, 4-2) for a non-league tilt.
Schalmont (5-0, 5-1) will be looking to complete its fifth straight unbeaten run through the Class B West Division Saturday at Hudson Falls (2-3, 3-3). Lansingburg (5-0, 6-0) goes for the outright Class B Reinfurt Division championship Saturday at Albany Academy
North Division front-runners Hoosick Falls (4-0), 6-0) and Tamarac (3-1, 4-2) meet in the Class C feature tonight on the Bengals field, while Canajoharie (2-1, 5-1) hosts Cambridge (3-0, 6-0) in a key Class D South Division matchup.
HV SEASON OVER
With only 16 available players, including 10 sophomores and freshmen, Hoosic Valley has forfeited its final two varsity games against Fort Edward and Warrensburg.
Hoosic Valley is a Class C team that the Section II football committee allowed to play in Class D North Division this fall. Hoosic Valley won its opener against Notre Dame-Bshop Gibbons, 38-13, and lost five games afterward while scoring just one touchdown.
Low player numbers ended Johnstown’s season after three games, kept Bishop Gibbons from competing in a Week 4 contest against Cambridge, and ended the seasons for Saratoga Catholic and Cairo-Durham before they began.