Schenectady’s 2011 football season took a dramatic downward spiral after Kwame Jarvis ran for an overtime touchdown to give the Patriots a clutch victory over Niskayuna.
A loss to LaSalle the following week cost Schenectady a piece of the Class AA Liberty Division title and sent the Patriots to Christian Brothers Academy for a quarterfinal playoff game. Schenectady lost that contest, and a crossover game against Saratoga Springs, too.
“We didn’t play well at the end of last year. We didn’t put our best foot forward,” said Schenectady coach Jim Kramer. “We’re a more mature football team now. We’re a more explosive football team.”
Riding a three-game winning streak and carrying a belief that a breakthrough is coming, Schenectady heads back to CBA for a Section II Class AA first-round rematch tonight.
The Patriots’ 40-0 setback at CBA last October was its third straight sectional road defeat following a 33-13 win over Shenendehowa in 2009 at Larry Mulvaney Field.
“We feel we’re just as good as anyone in the tournament,” said Kramer. “We’re playing pretty good football in all three phases. We’ve just got to play. We’ve got to perform.”
Schenectady (Liberty No. 3 seed, 5-2) has performed well since letting a two-touchdown lead get away in a 21-15 loss to Shaker, beating Troy (19-12), LaSalle (42-21) and Niskayuna (49-20) last week behind Hassan Railey’s 153 rushing yards and three touchdown runs.
Felix Rodriguez ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns, and Jarvis was an efficient 8-for-10 passing for 109 yards with a touchdown run and scoring toss to Trent Wheeler. Wheeler’s catch kick-started a 28-point first quarter that included Rodriguez’s runs to the end zone.
Rainey has emerged this year as a fine complement to Rodriguez, and in the LaSalle win, he collected 148 rushing yards to go with three second-half touchdowns that helped put the Cadets away.
“I believe we’re going to have our hands full with Schenectady,” said CBA coach Joe Burke. “Rodriguez didn’t play offense [in last year’s game] because he had a hand injury. He’s back and they’ve got Rainey to go with him, and their quarterback has developed into a 1,000-yard passer.”
CBA’s strength has been defense, with only Bethlehem scoring more than two touchdowns against the Brothers (Empire No. 2, 6-1).
“Our defense has done a great job all year long. We’ve given up some yards, but not a lot of touchdowns,” said Burke, whose group is led by linebacker Max Anthony and tackle Mike Zaloga. “We’ve been preparing like heck to stop their run game, and we’ve been preparing for accurate passing that we haven’t seen all year.”
“They’re aggressive. They’re downhill. They blitz a lot,” Kramer said of the CBA defense that his cast will face. “Our offense and our entire team is excited to go against them.”
The excitement faded fast a year ago, when the Brothers scored touchdowns on their first three possessions, and on four of their first five in building a 27-0 halftime lead. Cameron Wynn had the first touchdown, part of his 144-yard rushing effort, and he also had one of the Brothers’ three interceptions against Jarvis.
“We’ve got a different mentality right now,” said Kramer. “A lot of our guys, it was their first time in the fire. We know what it’s like now. We’re improved. We’re a more complete football team.”
Schenectady will have to be, needing a sharp defensive showing against CBA (Empire Division No. 2, 6-1). While Shenendehowa stuffed the Brothers last week, 14-0, and CBA edged Ballston Spa the week before, 12-6, it piled up at least 25 points in each of its five victories to open the season.
CBA put up 22 first-quarter points against Bethlehem (61-26), 21 first-quarter points against Albany (46-6) and 19 first-quarter points against LaSalle (50-14) behind runners Wynn, Anthony, Elliot Croskey and Spencer Hall, quarterback Troy Anthony and receiver Connor Crotty.
“If you’ve watched CBA games, when they’ve been successful, they’ve come out of the gate fast,” said Kramer. “We’ve got to be prepared from snap one.”
The Schenectady defense is anchored by 6-foot-4, 380-pound junior tackle Justin Richards, ends Kahzier Simmons and Tyler DePasquale and its linebacker group of Rodriguez, Javar Tillman, DeShawn Kunath and Vincent Winfield.
“It’s important for us to score early,” said Burke. “It will help our young guys, mentally, and get the crowd behind us, but more importantly, it will allow us to play freely on defense and maybe put a little more pressure on them.”
The Patriots will be making their sixth consecutive playoff appearance tonight. Schenectady lost at Ballston Spa in a 2010 quarterfinal and lost at Saratoga in a 2009 semifinal. The Patriots had their greatest postseason success in 2008 with wins over Ballston Spa and Niskayuna before a Super Bowl defeat against LaSalle.
Schenectady would have been home tonight, had it beaten Shaker or Columbia. Schenectady rallied late against Columbia in Week 1, but a missed two-point conversion proved costly in a 32-31 loss.
“It is what it is. We’re going on the road and we’re excited to be playing,” said Kramer. “We’re prepared to play our best football.”
CBA is looking to bounce back after seeing its division title hopes dashed last week.
“After the Shenendehowa game, I applauded them for their effort, but we also talked about the fact that we were not happy losing a football game,” said Burke. “After we talked, I could see they were ready to move on. They’re ready for the second season. It’s a time for us not so much to regroup, but to refocus. The level of play is going to be very high.”
The rest of tonight’s Class AA card has Ballston Spa (2-5) at Shaker (7-0), Colonie (3-4) at reigning champ Shenendehoewa (6-1) and Guilderland (4-3) at Columbia (4-3).
Schalmont has a heap of momentum heading into the Section II Class B tournament that it has won three straight times.
Never before in the lead up to those championships did Schalmont put together a three-game winning streak like it did against Broadalbin-Perth, Cobleskill-Richmondville and Hudson Falls to close the regular season. The streak included back-to-back 60-point efforts against the Bulldogs and the Tigers, with a forfeit victory over Johnstown in between.
“We’re starting to play real well,” said Sabres coach Joe Whipple. “The kids feel comfortable. The kids feel confident.”
Whipple and his staff made several adjustments after a 27-24 win against Schuylerville in Week 3. Schalmont (6-1) responded with a 51-7 homecoming win over Broadalbin-Perth, a 62-0 shutout of Cobleskill-Richmondville and a 64-13 triumph over Hudson Falls that included a 28-point, first-quarter outburst.
With that surge of success, Schalmont clinched its fifth consecutive West Division title.
“We looked at homecoming as the time where we were going to stick with this or that. We’ve done that the last few years, after we figured some things out,” said Whipple. “We made changes on offense and defense, and things have worked out.”
The biggest change on offense was the switch of Devon Willis from quarterback to tailback, where as a sophomore last season he earned all-state first-team accolades. Willis ran for 145 yards and three touchdowns against Hudson Falls when Schalmont extended its win skein against Section II Class B teams to 34 games.
That game also saw sophomore quarterback Nick Gallo run for two touchdowns, and hit six of seven passes for 100 yards, including a scoring toss to Dom Caputo.
“Devon is best at running back. We asked him to do a little more, and he embraced it. He wanted to do well, but he didn’t seem comfortable,” said Whipple. “He did some great things for us, but he had a little trouble throwing the ball. We knew we’d need to throw the ball to win the section again and move on after that.”
None of Schalmont’s most recent opponents moved the ball much. Junior Anthony Paturso has been a key defensive cog for Schalmont since his shift from end to inside linebacker.
“We were playing a lot of different defenses and trying different things. Now, we’re playing two base defenses,” said Whipple. “We feel good about where we are on that side of the ball.”
Schalmont hosts first-time sectional participant Ichabod Crane (3-4) tonight, and Broadalbin-Perth (5-2) goes to Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk (6-1) in the bracket’s other quarterfinal. The other side of the brackets has Schuylerville (3-4) at Lansingburgh (7-0) tonight, and Albany Academy (4-3) at Glens Falls (6-1) Saturday.
“We need to take care of business against Ichabod Crane. If we do, there’s a lot of big, tough, physical teams out there,” said Whipple. “Our guys realize what’s at stake, and they’re very focused.”
Four-time defending Class A champion Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (6-1) hosts Mohonasen (2-5) tonight, and three-time defending Class C champ Hoosick Falls (7-0) entertains Voorheesville (2-4).