The words Super Bowl were rarely uttered this week in the Christian Brothers Academy football camp. Coach Joe Burke liked it that way.
“We’ve got four great captains and a senior class that’s really kept the kids grounded,” Burke said. “They’ve done a great job of preparing themselves and taking the approach that it’s another game. It’s Week 10, and it’s Shaker. We know they’re good, but the goal all week was to not get too overly excited, get our work done and not say Super Bowl.”
That business-like demeanor has been a constant for the Brothers. It helped them prepare and then perform on the way to Section II’s biggest Class AA game of the season.
The no-nonsense Brothers will take on Shaker tonight at 7 at Bob Ford Field at the University at Albany.
“It’s worked for us,” said Burke. “Take every game like it’s just another game. Stay grounded and focused all week. Keep that going when we take the field.”
CBA is in its first championship game since a 2006 victory over Colonie. Shaker (8-1) is back to defend after taking down Shenendehowa in its first Super Bowl appearance a year ago.
“No doubt we’re happy to be playing in Week 10, but at the end of the game last week, there was no wild celebration,” Burke said of CBA’s 28-7 semifinal win over Guilderland. “We don’t want to be happy to be there. Our goal is to win every game, and we’re going to do what we have to do to make it happen.”
CBA (8-1) is a run-first team that’s come on defensively, with last week marking the fifth game in a row that it surrendered seven points or less. The Brothers beat Columbia in the quarterfinals, 49-6, roughed up LaSalle before that, 70-7, and beat Guilderland for the first time prior to that, 40-6, in a game that ultimately decided the Empire Division championship.
“Getting here, it’s something we thought was possible,” Burke said. “We’ve got a good group of kids.”
Few of the Shaker players that will perform tonight were in the spotlight a year ago.
“They lost so many stars, like Huntington, Griffin, Landers and Jackson. They’ve done a great job getting back,” Burke said of the Liberty Division winners, who’ll come in with a No. 16 state ranking. “Sometimes, you do it in different ways.”
Shaker’s way has been by committee on both defense and offense, where 18 different players have scored at least one touchdown. Jake Quay ran for two of them in last week’s 35-0 triumph over Saratoga Springs, Andrew Bolton ran for another, and Sean Egan hauled in a 75-yard scoring pass from Matt Woods.
On the flip side, Connor Hale returned a fumble for a touchdown and Nick Griffin made four tackles for losses as part of Shaker’s fourth shutout.
In the quarterfinals the week before, Will Halpin kicked a late field goal and Patrick Hoey blocked one soon after in a 23-21 comeback win over Shenendehowa. Early in that game, track star Lloyd Smalling turned a short pass into an 83-yard touchdown, his only TD reception this season.
“You never see the same guy leading them twice,” said Burke. “They share the glory.”
Elliott Croskey has been a focal figure in every game for the Brothers, rushing for over 100 yards and scoring at least a touchdown in each one. The senior ran for 141 yards and produced his 17th and 18th touchdowns last week, while Nick Marini and Max Anthony also ran for touchdowns as the state’s No. 14-ranked team stretched its win streak to seven contests.
“We need to run the ball, but I’ll promise you, we’ll mix it up,” said Burke, who has gotten 11 TD passes from Joe Kolbe. “Hopefully, we’ve got a good handle on knowing where their bubbles are.”
Guilderland found few holes in the CBA defense a week ago. Mike Hehir had two of the Brothers’ seven sacks, and Don Vivian had a sack and an interception to lead another sterling effort.
“Each team has an opportunity to grow week to week. We have been more gradual,” Burke said of his defensive unit. “They’ve gotten better each week and they’ve grown more confident each week. We think we’re playing well there.”
The offensive line anchored by 6-foot-4, 265-pound senior Griffin Clark is another area that’s blossomed.
“Their football IQ is as good as we’ve had. From center to tight end they adjust pretty well,” said Burke. “We’re around 3,000 rushing yards and 1,000 passing yards with those guys, and our hope is those kids can put us in position to win a football game down the stretch.”
CBA and Shaker last met in the sectionals in 2005, with the Blue Bison prevailing in a quarterfinal, 16-6.
Battle of unbeatens
Hoosick Falls (9-0) will go after its fifth straight Section II Class C championship when it takes on Chatham (9-0) tonight at 7 at Stillwater.
Hoosick Falls’ 49-game Section II winning streak includes title-game wins over Chatham in 2012, 2010 and 2009. Hoosick Falls also beat Chatham for the 2006 area flag.
Mike Matatt ran for two touchdowns and Garrett Wright passed for a pair as Hoosick Falls, the defending state champ and current No. 1-ranked team, beat Fonda-Fultonville last week, 31-0. Chatham, ranked No. 6 in the state, got five touchdowns from Tyler Rivera in a 51-6 semifinal win over Corinth.