Guilderland made plays, took Shaker’s best shot in a late comeback bid and then made a few more plays to upend the defending Section II Class AA champion last week for its most significant win in years.
“That game gave them the final piece of assurance that we can play great, and do it against the best,” said Dutchmen coach Dan Penna. “We played great and played hard, battled through ups and downs. It was so good for us.”
Penna is hoping the Dutchmen’s 31-28 overtime victory serves as a launching pad for even bigger things as they make a run at the Empire Division title. Their difficult closing stretch begins tonight at home against Shenendehowa, Section II’s only other unbeaten Class AA team, and matchups with Christian Brothers Academy and Saratoga Springs follow.
“Every game is going to be a battle from here on out,” said Penna. “We’ve got to play well if we want to keep winning. We can’t play average.”
Guilderland (3-0, 4-0) has picked up steam since opening with 28-21 win over Ballston Spa. Triumphs over Albany (61-26) and Bethlehem (36-16) followed before Micaiah Henningham’s three touchdown runs and a 28-yard field goal by
Andrew Sentz in overtime propelled the Dutchmen to their eighth win in nine games going back to last season.
“When we started the season, we knew we had experienced players coming back, and real competitors,” said Penna. “They set high goals for themselves. We knew we had the potential to be a contender.”
Shenendehowa (3-0, 4-0) has matched Guilderland through four games with a cast of new impact players. Only Oliver Robinson, at linebacker, and Erik Kromer, at defensive end, started on last year’s team that lost to Shaker in the Super Bowl.
“Coming into the season, we knew we had a solid nucleus returning, but not a lot of experience,” said Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson. “I’m very, very pleased with their progress, and the intangible qualities they’ve shown. They’ve risen to the occasion in tough spots. They’ve kept their poise.”
With an impressive 35-21 Week 2 win over CBA on its resume, Shenendehowa has climbed to
No. 17 in the state rankings. Guilderland moved up to No. 24 after dealing Shaker its first loss inside Section II since the 2011 campaign.
“You’ve got two teams that are going to bring their best to the table,” Penna said of tonight’s homecoming game. “We’re both 4-0, and we’re both looking to attain the same things.”
Shenendehowa and Guilderland haven’t met in a game of such magnitude since Week 7 of the 2007 season. The Dutchmen prevailed in that one, 34-21, to gain a share of the division title with the Plainsmen and Ballston Spa. That’s the year Guilderland went on to make its only Super Bowl appearance.
“They’re coming off a huge win against Shaker. That was a war,” said Clawson. “You know for sure it will help their confidence. Anytime you beat the Class AA champions, it’s a hugh confidence boost.”
Quarterback Frank Gallo broke his own school record with 25 completions out of Guilderland’s spread offense and ran for a touchdown after Henningham produced his three behind a line featuring D’Angelo Livingston, Ben Phelan, Josh Lamb, Tim Pasquini and Julian Christiano.
“They throw the ball extremely well. Gallo is the best quarterback in the area, but they run well, too,” said Clawson. “We’ve got to be prepared to play solid defense across the board, at all three levels. We can’t gear up to stop one facet.”
Robinson and Kromer anchor the Shenendehowa defense with linebacker Matt Drum and safety Matt Hardy.
“They have linemen who will get after the passer and can stuff the run. They’re big on blitzing. They have secondary guys who run downhill well,” said Penna. “Anytime you face a Shenendehowa defense, it’s a big challenge.”
The Plainsmen are also formidable with the football, and showcase a backfield that includes runners Matt Taft, Robinson and Jeremiah Smith, and a line group led by Ricky Homan, Warren Shaw, Alex Plastini, Connor Chatterton and Theo Slepski.
“Our line has really stepped up to the table,” Clawson said. “They have controlled the line of scrimmage in every game.”
Clawson was quick to note that his quarterback tandem of Ryan Van Galen and Ben Sibson has completed 12 of 18 passes for 260 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks.
Brendan Marra was a key performer in last week’s 53-28 win over Albany with a pair of touchdown receptions from Van Galen. The junior also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for the first of three Shenendehowa touchdowns to begin the contest.
“Shenendehowa’s bread and butter is the run game, but they’re passing well, too, and not just when they need to,” said Penna. “We know we have to have good coverage, and at the same time, play the run and contain their backfield.”
Livingston and Christiano are two-way line standouts, and will lead a Guilderland defense that also includes Marcus Knodler and Henningham in the secondary, and linebackers Ben Govel and Alec Cardinal. Henningham knocked down a fourth down pass in overtime to set the stage for Sentz’s clutch kick last week.
Shenendehowa has won four of the last five meeting with Guilderland.
Rams host Spartans
Amsterdam (1-0, 3-1) will host Queensbury (2-0, 4-0) tonight in a key Class A Northwest Division game. The Spartans ended Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s 15-game winning streak last week, 28-27, and bumped BH-BL (1-1, 3-1) from the No. 1 spot in the state rankings.
Fonda-Fultonville (4-0, 4-0) travels to Chatham (3-0, 4-0) tonight for a Class C South Division showdown pitting state-ranked squads.
Hoosic Valley (0-3, 0-5) has forfeited Saturday’s Class D South Division game with Rensselaer (3-0, 5-0) due to a lack of available players.