Shaker did not attempt a pass in its football game with Shenendehowa in late September.
The Blue Bison didn’t have to. They ran with great effect from start to finish and shut down every Plainsmen counter in a 35-8 homefield win.
“It’s revealing, yet motivating at the same time,” Shenendehowa first-year coach Brian Clawson said of the game film from that matchup of state-ranked Class AA teams. “We’ve watched it 100 times to see where we got beat and why we got beat. We’ve tried to make corrections to put ourselves in a position to win the game.”
The televised Section II championship-game rematch takes place tonight at 7 at Shenendehowa. The Plainsmen will be looking to defend the title they won a year ago and claimed on 10 occasions before under legendary coach coach Brent Steuerwald. The Blue Bison are first-time participants in the large-school showcase.
“We talked the other night about how a lot of people who played at Shaker never got this opportunity,” said Blue Bison coach Greg Sheeler. “This is a great opportunity for these guys.”
Shaker (9-0) had lost to Shenendehowa (8-1) seven straight times before the Week 5 encounter, when it scored on its first drive, put up five touchdowns before the Plainsmen’s only offensive response, intercepted two passes and made a pair of goal-line stands.
“That was five games ago. We have both changed a bit. We’ve both improved,” Sheeler said. “We know it’s going to be a different game, but for us, it proved we can beat them.”
For all the good things Shaker did, it was a brutal ground attack to that stung Shenendehowa most of all. Tyler Oppelt raced 47 yards for a touchdown, and Ryan Griffin provided the put-away touchdown on an 86-yard third-quarter run before Deven Koehler’s 63-yard sprint to the end zone. Shaker amassed 400 rushing yards and averaged 10 per carry behind a David Morrison-led line, and quarterback Chris Landers scored twice.
“It all starts with them up front. They’ve got a very good offensive line, and they look to control the line of scrimmage. They’re not going to stop until you stop them,” said Clawson. “We’ve got to win on first down and try to get them in situations they’re not used to — second and long, third and long.”
Shenendehowa recorded shutouts against Saratoga Springs (49-0) and Christian Brothers Academy (14-0) after its lone defeat, and followed with playoff wins over Colonie (48-14) and Columbia (34-12). The Columbia win included a second-half shutout as the Plainsmen rallied from a 12-6 deficit.
“Our defense against CBA was fantastic. That was an unbelievable football game, and we’ve been building on that. It’s been a gradual building process,” said Clawson, whose defense features linebackers Chris Miller and Lucas Buckley, tackle Chris Stewart and Kyle Buss in the secondary. “Wee believe we’re in a position where we’re ready to line up and play them.”
While Shenendehowa was shutting down Columbia — like it did in last year’s Super Bowl — Corey Acker was the offensive star in last week’s comeback with a 45-yard touchdown catch just before halftime, and scoring runs of 75 and 64 yards afterward.
“That’s a character builder. Columbia is similar to Shaker with a good offensive line and two good running backs. You can see the similarities,” said Clawson. “It was a see-saw game most of the first half, and our kids rose to the occasion and came together. It was good to have some adversity and come away with a win. I think that kind of game got us ready for this.”
Shenendehowa’s offensive game plan revolves around getting the ball into the hands of its play-making cast of Acker, Marcelino Christie and Buss. Ryan Buss will quarterback the Plainsmen after missing the first Shaker game with an ankle injury.
“I don’t expect to see a lot of changes. Not now. They’re 8-1, and they’re not going to try to reinvent the wheel,” said Sheeler. “They’ll try to be more efficient and execute better.”
Reserve running back Oliver Robinson had the lone touchdown against Shaker late in the fourth quarter.
“We do have weapons,” said Clawson. “It’s going to come down to execution. We need to spring them.”
Few teams have had offensive success against Shaker’s defense that features Schuyler Huntington on the line and Griffin at linebacker, with only Niskayuna and Schenectady producing more than two touchdowns. Schenectady put up three last week before Griffin’s short touchdown run broke a third-quarter tie, and Shaker held on for a 28-21 win when the Patriots were denied at the goal line in the final seconds.
That game ended in controversy as television replays appeared to show that Pats’ quarterback Kwame Jarvis hit the end zone pylon with a diving effort on a fourth down play.
“Schenectady has speed and a lot of weapons. They put pressure on us all night on every possession, and that was a good prep for this game because Shenendehowa has speed and weapons,” said Sheeler. “We played Schenectady earlier in the season [21-14 win] right before we played Shenendehowa, and it helped us.”
Griffin ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns last week, Kenny Jackson had 96 yards and a touchdown and Huntington made impact
defensive plays from start to finish in one of Section II’s best games this season.
“They are here for a reason, but we’re ready for the challenge, and the kids are looking forward to it,” said Clawson. “Our kids got a taste of the state playoffs last year, and they want to get back. This is the spot where they wanted to be.”
Shaker moved up this week from No. 3 to No. 1 in the state sportswriter’s Class AA rankings after No. 1 Rush-Henrietta (7-1) lost to Aquinas and No. 2 Tottenville (7-1) forfeited a game. Shenendehowa is ranked No. 13 in the state.
Hoosick Falls (9-0) will go after its fourth straight Class C championship tonight at 7 at Stillwater, with Chatham (9-0) supplying the competition.
Hoosick Falls’ 39-game Section II win streak includes Class C title-game wins over Chatham in 2009 and 2010, and a victory over Fonda-Fultonville a year ago. The Panthers also won the 2006 title at Chatham’s expense.
Hoosick Falls beat Fonda-Fultonville in the semifinals behind Billy Pine’s three touchdown passes and two scoring runs, 47-0. Chatham nipped Mechanicville last week on Tyler Van Brunt’s 32-yard overtime field goal, 23-20.