Shaker’s Mike Mainella caught a scoring pass two plays into Friday night’s Section II Class AA championship football game before the Bison defense and hard-running Ryan Griffin took over.
The fast and aggressive Blue Bison made one stop after another, and Griffin pounded for big yards and the clinching touchdown in the second half in a 14-0 victory over Shenendehowa at Steuerwald Stadium.
“Our defensive coaches did a great job of getting the kids ready, and the kids were hungry and got after it,” coach Greg Sheeler said after Shaker’s first Super Bowl appearance. “I’m thrilled with the defense and how they performed.”
Though Shenendehowa put together a few decent drives, it never came close to finishing after Mainella turned a short reception into an 80-yard scoring play 59 seconds into the contest. Shenendehowa was also blanked in the 2010 final by Troy, 38-0, but poured it on last year in a 49-6 title-game triumph over Columbia.
“It’s disappointing for everyone involved,” said first-year Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson, after the Plainsmen were denied their 12th large-school championship. “Give all the credit to Shaker and coach Sheeler. They played better than we did tonight. We had trouble in the first game with them. We had trouble in this game.”
Shaker (10-0) humbled Shenendehowa (8-2) in a Week 5 game, 35-8, scoring five touchdowns before the Plainsmen’s only response late in the fourth quarter.
“We were still the underdog. Even though we beat them before, we still didn’t get a lot of respect,” said Griffin, who rushed for 125 yards on 22 carries. “People were saying Shenendehowa was going to do this and that, and we still had a lot to prove.”
Griffin raced 41 yards for a touchdown with 6:33 left in the game, Schuyler Huntington recorded a sack on Shenendehowa’s first play afterward and Alex Bazanos recovered a fumble caused by Enrico Battibulli after that for the last of numerous significant plays by the Shaker defense.
“Oh my gosh. All the credit goes to the defense,” said Griffin. “They fought so hard the whole game.”
Griffin did most of his damage over the final two quarters, when he bulled for 119 yards on 18 attempts. The senior picked up a pair of key first downs, going three yards for one of them on fourth down play, in a time consuming drive after Bazanos’ recovery.
Griffin also picked up two first downs on bursts of nine and eight yards before his touchdown run capped an eight-play, 69-yard series.
“We knew it was going to be a four-quarter game,” Griffin said. “In the fourth quarter, we came out in an ‘I’ formation and pounded them.”
“We made a few adjustments with our line at the half,” said Sheeler. “The line was getting a push, and Ryan was hitting the holes.”
Shaker’s defense hit effectively all night. Huntington had two sacks on Shenendehowa quarterback Ryan Buss, Mainella and Brandon Safford each recorded a sack, Jake Quay forced and recovered a fumble and the Blue Bison gave up 108 rushing and passing yards. Marcelino Christie was the Plainsmen’s best weapon with 46 rushing yards on 15 carries.
“We thought we could get outside on them. They had good speed on the outside,” said Clawson. “When we tried to throw the ball, they brought the house.
“Our defense battled all game, but we couldn’t get over the hump, offensively. We had some opportunities over the 50 yard line, but we got in long down and distance situations that hurt us.”
Corey Acker intercepted Shaker quarterback Chris Landers on the end zone and returned the ball to the 33 in the third quarter. The Plainsmen drove to the Blue Bison 30 behind Christie’s gritty running before a fourth-down pass fell incomplete early in the fourth period.
That was the same ending four plays into a Shenedehowa bid late in the second quarter after Acker’s 24-yard punt return gave the hosts the ball at the Shaker 26.
“I thought it was big for us to get over the hump in Week 5 when we beat them,” said Sheeler. “It was huge going into this game as far as giving us belief that we could win.”
The state’s No. 1-ranked Class AA team struck quickly when, on second-and-10, Mainella ran a down and out, took in a short pass from Landers, and outraced the Shenendehowa defense to the end zone. Shenendehowa’s defense stiffened after that and made several stops to keep the game at 7-0, including a fumble recovery by Oliver Robinson and Acker’s interception of a deflected pass.
Shaker received a state quarterfinal bye and will see semifinal action Nov. 17 against the Section I-IX winner at Dietz Stadium in Kingston. Shenendehowa’s 2011 season ended in the state semifinals.
“I’m so lucky to have this group of seniors as my first senior class,” said Clawson, who took over this year for Section II’s all-time wins leader, Brent Steuerwald. “They mean the world to me. You never want this to be the way it comes to an end, but unfortunately, it did.”
Shaker 7 0 0 7 — 14
Shenendehowa 0 0 0 0 — 0
Shak — Mainello 80 pass from Landers (McClenahan kick).
Shak — Griffin 41 run (McClenahan kick).