A year ago, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake came up big on the grandest stage for New York high school football, but only for a half.
The Spartans opened up a 20-7 advantage against Maine-Endwell, but failed to add to that score, and their defense faltered in a 27-20 state Class A championship-game loss at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
“We have to approach it as 48 minutes. Twenty-four, 26 minutes, that’s not going to cut it. If we play 47 minutes, we’re probably not going to win the game,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said of today’s Class A state final against Sweet Home. “When you don’t think you can, you’ve got to take the extra step.”
Burnt Hills will be making its fourth title-game appearance in five years when it collides with Sweet Home in the 3 p.m. contest at the Dome. The teams have met before, and the Panthers prevailed both times on the strength of productive first halves, in 2008 (35-28) and 2009 (34-7).
The Spartans had their shining moments in both of those games, just as they did last year against Maine-Endwell, yet not enough of them to end their state title drought, or Section II’s that began after Amsterdam claimed the 2005 Class A crown.
“You’ve got to go back to the ’09 year,” said Burnt Hills senior center and defensive tackle Nick Marchesiello. “When we lost that game, it was a lot of sadness. When we lost last year, it was a lot of anger. And a lot of thinking like we let something slip through our hands — because we did. We let the opportunity go. Obviously, to a very good team, but I know a lot of the guys this year, we were all there, and we do not want to make the same mistake again.”
Ryan McDonnell threw touchdown passes to Tom Ruppel and Eric Dillon, and Dan Porter raced 81 yards for another score, to help stake Burnt Hills its halftime lead in last year’s final. Nick Sorrenti ran for a trio of second-half touchdowns as part of Maine-Endwell’s comeback.
“I remember coming out for the second half and feeling pretty good,” said McDonnell, one of 30 seniors on the
BH-BH roster. “If we could have gotten a stop on their first possession, that could have been the game, but they got momentum. They drove down the field and put it together.”
“A few things happened. A few things didn’t go our way,” said Porter, a junior who leads BH-BL with 18 touchdowns. “We know if we execute at a high level, we can beat anybody.”
While Shell is certain he’ll get a great effort from his team, he stressed that offensive and defensive execution must be combined with it. In short, the Spartans need a lot of stops, a lot of first downs and special teams precision against the state’s No. 2-ranked team from Amherst.
Sweet Home has found ways to win in its postseason run, which includes comeback efforts the last two weekends in the regional round against Eastridge and in the state semifinals against Union-Endicott.
“We have to be at our best. If we are, we’ll have an opportunity to do well, but there’s another team out there that wants this thing, too, and it’s not going to just happen. We’ve got to make it happen,” Shell said. “It’s about everyone executing at their position. That’s what will make us successful. That’s why we’ve been able to be successful.”
Burnt Hills (11-1) built an early lead and surged late to beat Cornwall, 28-13, for its 11th consecutive victory last Friday. McDonnell ran for a first-half touchdown and hit Matt Peltier with a scoring pass before Cornwall answered on consecutive possessions and pulled within 14-13. The state’s No. 4-ranked team stiffened defensively in the second half, and Josh Quesada and Danny Maynard broke off touchdowns runs to cap lengthy drives.
“We worked hard to build that 14-0 lead, and the next thing you know, it’s 14-13,” said Shell. “We did a good job of regrouping at the half, but we can’t have any lulls. We need to do it one more time, only better. It’s the biggest game of the year, and we’ve got to play our best.”
“For one minute, if you fall asleep, it could cost us the game. A fumble, or an interception or something like that could really hurt us,” said McDonnell. “It might be a game of which team makes the first mistake. We’re evenly matched teams, two good teams.”
Sweet Home (Western New York Section VI, 12-0) erased a 22-19 deficit with three second-half touchdowns in its 40-22 state semifinal win over Union-Endicott. Michael McCoy ran 65 yards for a touchdown on the third quarter’s opening play, and soon after, Brad Zaffram intercepted a pass and scored on a short burst.
Sweet Home later got another key defensive play from Josh Roe, who stripped the U-E quarterback and returned the ball for the clinching touchdown.
“We’ve played some real good football teams out there,” said Shell. “Maine-Endwell was unbelievable. Sweet Home is unbelievable. They’re good at what they do, and they’ve been doing it for a long time.”
On thing Sweet Home will do is attack Burnt Hills with contrasting offensive styles, using both a spread formation and a tightly packed double-wing.
“It’s real hard because they’re two totally different offenses, and they’re good at both,” said Shell. “We’ve got to really be on our toes.”
“They’re versatile. They’ve got some complex stuff, but we have a great defense,” said Marchesiello. “We have great guys and great coaches, and a lot of these guys, you can tell them something one day and they’re going to have it that same practice.”
Sweet Home has won 60 consecutive games against Section VI opponents, extending that streak with a 28-7 title-game triumph over West Seneca East. The Panthers sixth straight regional appearance afterward ended in a 28-21 overtime victory against Eastridge. Jordan Evert ran for two fourth-quarter touchdowns as the Panthers erased a 21-7 deficit, and McCoy caught the winning TD pass from Michael Torrillo.
Burnt Hills slugged Potsdam in the regionals when Dillon caught two scoring passes and returned a blocked punt for another touchdown, 42-0, and topped Amsterdam to get out of Section II for the fifth year in a row, 48-6.
“We’re playing good football right now. Solid football. What coach likes to call our brand of football,” said McDonnell. “We’ve played a couple of 48-minute games long the way, and that’s what it’s going to take.”
“I’m ready. I know all of these guys are ready. You can just sense it in their presence,” said Marchesiello. “You get around the guys, and you’re at practice and things are looking sharp. Offensively, it’s sharp, defensively, it’s sharp. You can just see it in these guys. I mean, they want it this year, and that’s good.”
Indians, Panthers play saturday
Maine-Endwell (Section IV, 12-0) returns to the Dome for Saturday’s 3 p.m. Class B championship game against first-time participant Glens Falls (11-1). The Indians beat Marlboro in the semifinals behind Mike LaNoir’s two touchdowns and scoring pass, 28-17, and the Spartans topped Alden behind Justin Jacoby’s three touchdown runs, 49-14.
Glens Falls, which has won 11 straight games, is ranked 2 in the state. Maine-Endwell is No. 1.
“It’s going to be a physical game,” said Shell, “You’re looking at two teams that punch you in the mouth.”
Glens Falls, like Maine-Endwell, played at the Class A level in past years.
Hoosick Falls (12-0) and Hornell (Section V, 12-0) meet for the state Class C title Saturday at noon. Hoosick Falls beat James I. O’Neill last week, 43-21, and Hornell beat Chenango Forks, 20-7, for its 51st straight victory. Hornell won the last three state Class B titles, and beat Schalmont for the 2010 prize, 50-20.
Hoosick Falls reached the state Class C final in 2003 and lost to Caledonia-Mumford, 30-26. The Panthers are No. 2 in the state. Hornell is No. 1.
Section II has matched its all-time high with three state title-game participants. The last time Section II sent a trio into the last week of play was 1998 (Troy, Queensbury, Lake George).