Tonight, it’s for real, and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football coach Matt Shell is anxious to see how his re-built Spartans respond.
The defending state Class A champions host a Lansingburgh team that also has new faces in key spots, but brings back one of the premier running backs in Section II with Anthony Walker. As a junior, Walker piled up well over 2,000 all-purpose yards for the Class B Reinfurt Division winners.
“We’ve watched film. We know how they look, but seeing the real thing, it’s different,” said Shell. “Everything is a little faster, and there’s the physicalness. It’s always different when you line up. I’m interested to see how the kids react to that.”
Shell was pleased with the defensive moves guys like Matt Sterlina, David Nusbaum, Jeff Tope and Sam Bartlett made in last Saturday’s scrimmage with Guilderland, Queensbury and Middletown. They’re among Burnt Hills’ returning cast that this season will take on more significant roles.
“We saw a mix of everything. Defensively, we had to change the way we played with each of those teams. The keys changed, but the fundamentals didn’t change, and I liked what I saw,” said Shell. “Let’s see what they can do when it counts.”
Troy made more plays in last year’s season opener against Burnt Hills and came away with a 17-7 victory. The Spartans didn’t lose another game, going 12-0 while snaring their fifth straight Section II title and first New York flag after three previous setbacks at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
“No excuses. We didn’t play to the level we needed to. We didn’t make plays when we needed them. I was bad,” said Shell of the Troy game. “We have to make sure we’re ready to go.”
While Burnt Hills stumbled early last season, Lansingburgh took a spill late, in the sectional quarterfinals against Schuylerville, 20-19, after compiling a 7-0 record.
“We had a letdown in Week 8. We made a few mistakes in the fourth quarter, and that hurt us. The seniors on this team have a chip on their shoulder after that loss to Schuylerville, and they’re champing at the bit to get going,” said first-year Lansingburgh coach Jeff Pasinella.
“We’re looking for the same type of season, but with a better ending,” said Walker, who, as a junior, was named to the all-state first team. “This season means a lot to our seniors.”
New starting quarterback Shay Curtis is among them. Linemen Tyler McDonough, Chris Eaton and Kye Ray, and standout defensive back Jordan Cloutier are among the others. Burnt Hills’ senior leaders include lineman Nico Fragale and Ross Warren, linebacker David Newell and a standout defensive end Paul Krowel.
“Burnt Hills always has a good program. It’s going to be a rough game, but we’d like to make a statement and let them know we can play, too,” said Walker. “We’ve got to come out battling.”
Pasinella said the play of his offensive line will be a big part of tonight’s contest.
“We’ve come up with some good schemes,” he said. “We’ll have to get some movement up front. We’ll see what we can do.”
Walker did plenty last season, rushing for 1,903 yards and 33 touchdowns. He also caught three touchdown passes, and returned a punt and a kickoff for scores.
“He needs a little seam, and he can turn it into something big,” said Pasinella. “Some stuff he does, you can’t teach it. He makes things happen.”
“I don’t know all of the specifics on the Walker kid, but you know what he did. He gets your attention. You’ve got to make sure you understand he’s a big-play kid,” said Shell. “At the same time, they put other kids out there, too. If we get too tunnel vision, we can get burned. We’ve got to play good team football.”
Danny Maynard has taken over the quarterback spot for BH-BL after playing a role in the team’s run-by-committee backfield in 2012. Josh Quesada is the most experienced running back for the Spartans, who lost touchdown leader Dan Porter to an ACL injury during the summer.
“They did lose some people, but they have a great program,” said Pasinella. “They’ll be ready for us. We’ll be ready for them. It shapes up to be a great game.”
Lansingburgh and Burnt Hills last met in the 2010 Section II Class A final won by the Spartans, 42-21. The Spartans defeated the Knights in that year’s season opener, too, 25-15.
Pats at the dome
Schenectady will make its season debut tonight at the Carrier Dome against Section III’s Fayetteville-Manlius as part of the Kickoff Classic. The Patriots have never played at the Dome before.
“I want them to enjoy it to the fullest, but keep it in perspective,” said first-year Schenectady coach Mark Cerrone. “When it comes time to play football, the kids need to be ready. They need to ramp it up.”
Like Schenectady, Fayetteville-Manlius was a Class AA sectional semifinalist last season, and like the Patriots, the Hornets have a new coach in Damien Rhodes.
“We’re going to build off it either way it goes,” said Cerrone. “Hopefully it’s a win.”
Schenectady went 6-3 last season after its 28-21 sectional loss to Shaker. Fayetteville-Manlius finished 7-2 after a 38-36 sectional setback against Baldwinsville.
“This could be a big tone-setter for our season,” said Schenectady senior Felix Rodriguez. “It would be great for our confidence if we can get a win.”
A Super Bowl rematch takes place Saturday at Glens Falls when the Indians host fellow Class B West Division member Schalmont. Glens Falls ended Schalmont’s hopes of a fourth straight area championship last November, 21-14.
“Everyone on our team still has a sour taste,” said Schalmont junior Nick Gallo. “We’ve been waiting for that game. I know we’ll be ready.”
Schoburg, with students from Schoharie and Duanesburg, will make its varsity debut Saturday at Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons in a non-league game against the newly combined Bishop Gibbons/Saratoga Central Catholic team.
Both are Class D South Division members. They were originally slated to play Salem (vs. Schoburg) and Fort Edward (vs. NDBG/SCC) Saturday, but those teams forfeited when not enough of their players could fulfill practice requirements. The Indian Eagles and the Sainted Knights will meet again in the
division game in Week 6 at Schoharie.