Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake has twice used Cornwall as the final steppingstone toward the state Class A championship football game.
Neither of those Cornwall teams possessed the offensive might that Burnt Hills will be confronted with tonight at 8 in a semifinal rematch with the Dragons at Dietz Stadium in Kingston.
The record-setting Dragons slugged Goshen (62-0) and Wallkill (53-0) in the Section IX tournament, and went over 30 points for the ninth consecutive time with their 34-13 regional win over Somers.
“They’ve got a great offense,” said Spartans coach Matt Shell. “Their quarterback is very good passer, the Cruz kid can catch it, and their line, from what we’ve seen, does a nice job with pass protection.”
Containing the Dragons prolific air attack and scoring enough against a team that hasn’t allowed much will be the prime objectives as Burnt Hills bids for its fourth semifinal win in five years. The Spartans topped Cornwall in 2009 (41-16) and last year (35-14), edged Nyack in 2008 (14-13) and bowed to Harrison in 2010 (17-7).
“Cornwall’s defense runs well to the ball, and they play physical. You know when you get to the semifinals you’re going to see a good all-around team. They’re at this point for a reason,” said Shell. “We have to have a good night of football.”
Burnt Hills (10-1) has had many of those such nights since opening its season with a 17-7 loss at Troy. Its 10-game winning streak includes a 48-6 drubbing of Amsterdam in the Section II final, last week’s 42-0 regional rout of Potsdam and seven other games decided by more than 10 points.
“We want an opportunity to play in Week 13, like everyone else does,” said Shell. “We’ll do what we can to get there.”
For the second year in a row — and for the fifth time since 1996 — Section II will have five teams in the semifinals. Burnt Hills was the only area team that prevailed in 2011, and Cornwall (11-0) set up the rematch with Monday’s regional win over Somers, when quarterback Mike White completed 20 of 31 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns. The junior has spread the ball among 12 different recievers for 2,491 yards and 28 touchdowns.
White set a Section IX record with 484 passing yards in the win over Wallkill, when he delivered four touchdown tosses.
“The best thing you can do is get them out of their rhythm. It’s easier to say than do it,” said Shell. “We’ll need a team effort, and it starts with pressure up front.”
Burnt Hills applied that pressure a year ago and logged a first-half shutout while putting up three touchdowns. After White threw a touchdown pass in the third quarter, the Spartans sealed the win on scoring runs by Dan Porter and the graduated Tom Ruppel.
“You have to stop what they like to do. We’ve done a lot of preparation on the passing game. We’ve seen these formations. We’ve seen teams with speed. We’ve seen quarterbacks with good arms,” said Shell. “At the same time, you have to respect the run. We don’t want that to come back and haunt us.”
Alex Cruz is Cornwall’s top offensive threat, showing 43 receptions, 1,086 yards and 10 touchdowns. Cruz set a Section IX record with 285 receiving yards in the Somers game. Of his 11 catches, two went for touchdowns covering 82 and 78 yards.
“What separates him is, he goes and gets the ball. He has great hands and he can catch the football with guys all around him,” said Shell. “We have to be fundamentally sound. We have to be in proper position.”
Eric Dillon had a strong defensive performance against Cornwall last year with an interception and a fumble recovery, and he also recovered an onside kick. That was just one of the senior’s big playoff efforts. Last year, he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Ryan McDonnell in the Section II final against Amsterdam, and last week, he hauled in two touchdown passes and blocked a punt and returned it for another.
Dillon will join defensive backs Shomari Ingram, Billy Chapman and Mike Danz in a BH-BL secondary that’s certain to be tested.
Union-Endicott (Section IV, 9-1) and Sweet Home (Section VI, 11-0) will meet in tonight’s Rochester semifinal, with the state Class A final next Friday (3 p.m.) at the Syracuse Carrier Dome. Burnt Hills lost to Maine-Endwell in the 2011 title game and lost to Sweet Home in 2009 and 2008 finals.
Rensselaer (10-1) will be looking to keep its semifinal record perfect when it takes on Tuckahoe (Section I, 7-2-1) in a Class D game today at 4. The Rams won semifinal games in 1994 and 1995 and earned their return trip with last week’s 50-0 win over Moriah. Tuckahoe, the 2010 state champ, advanced with a 34-18 win over Chester.
Tioga (Section IV, 10-1) and Randolph (Section VI, 9-2) meet in tonight’s Rochester semifinal. The championship game is next Friday (noon).
Shaker (10-0) makes its state tournament debut Saturday at 7 p.m. in a Class AA semifinal against New Rochelle (Section I, 9-1).
Shaker earned a regional bye after blanking Shenendehowa in the Section II final, 14-0, when Ryan Griffin outgained the Plainsmen by himself with 125 rushing yards to go with his clinching touchdown.
The Blue Bison will be facing a defensive juggernaut in New Rochelle, which has allowed 41 points and recorded six shutouts. The Huguenots beat Pine Bush in the quarterfinals, 39-7, and took control in the first half when Khalil Edney hit Terrence Holden and Joe Clarke with touchdown passes and ran for another.
New Rochelle is 3-1 against Section II teams in the semifinals, with Troy posting a 20-19 win in 2010.
Christian Brothers Academy (Section III, 11-0) and 2011 state champ Orchard Park (Section VI, 10-1) meet in the Rochester semifinal tonight. The large-school state final is one week from Saturday (6 p.m.) in Syracuse.
Glens Falls (10-1) will see state Class B semifinal action for the second time Saturday at 3 against Marlboro (Section IX). The Indians first state semifinal back in 1993 ended in a loss to Yorktown. Glens Falls beat Peru in the quarterfinals for its 10th consecutive win, 36-20, and Marlboro clipped Our Lady of Lourdes in overtime, 23-20, to advance.
Maine-Endwell (Section IV, 11-0) and Alden (Section VI, 11-0) meet in the Rochester semifinal Saturday. The state Class B final is one week from Saturday (3 p.m.) in Syracuse.
Hoosick Falls (11-0) will be looking for a different outcome when it meets James I. O’Neill (Section IX, 9-2) in Saturday morning’s Class C semifinal at 11. Hoosick Falls lost at this stage last year against Dobbs Ferry and also fell short in 2009 against Bronxville, both games decided by one point. The Panthers rallied past Saranac Lake, 20-12, and O’Neill beat Woodlands, 25-18, to advance.
Chenango Forks (Section IV, 11-0) and Hornell (Section V, 11-0) meet in the Rochester semifinal Saturday. The Class C state title game is one week from Saturday (noon). Hornell is riding a 50-game win streak, and claimed the last three Class B titles.