John Clayton knew he was going to see action at quarterback when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake took on Queensbury in a late September game that pitted the top teams in the Class A Northwest Division.
“Earlier that week, coach said, ‘You’re going to play.’ He said, ‘You could get five snaps or you could get 50 snaps,’ ” Clayton said. “Because of Danny’s injury, I had to play.”
The junior varsity call-up has been a key figure in the Spartans’ lineup ever since that game,
directing the offense in five straight victories capped by last week’s 24-19 Section II semifinal triumph at Troy.
The streak has thrust Burnt Hills (8-1) into a second meeting with Queensbury (9-0) in tonight’s Section II Class A Super Bowl at Shenendehowa’s Steuerward Stadium at 7.
Queensbury beat Burnt Hills in that first go-round, 28-27, ending a 15-game winning streak by the reigning state champion Spartans.
“I hate losing, and I didn’t want that to happen again,” Clayton said. “After the Queensbury game, I set some personal goals. I got help from Danny [Maynard], Josh [Quesada] and some of the other guys, and I’ve gotten better.”
“He’s a real hard worker,” said Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell. “If we’re doing a defense day, he’ll work on his feet and work on his throws and ask a lot of questions. He’s always trying to find ways to make himself better, and he’s improved every week.”
Maynard had started at quarterback in BH-BL’s first three games, and the plan was for the junior and Clayton to both see action against Queensbury. For Clayton, the contest was supposed to serve as a get-the-feet-wet breaking-in period.
“Danny got hurt [rib injury] early in the first half. He played the first half, but after, we realized he couldn’t go, and we told John, ‘You’re the guy,’ and he took it in stride,” Shell said.
“He got thrown right in and he handled it. He did what a varsity quarterback should,” Quesada said. “He drove us down the field and gave us a chance to win.
“I was confident in him when he got called up. He knows how to lead, and he’s got a great arm.”
Clayton threw a touchdown pass to Packy Brown late in the fourth quarter to get Burnt Hills within one point, but his extra-point attempt that followed hit the upright, and Queensbury was on its way to its first win over BH-BL in 10 games.
“I know what I did wrong and put it behind me,” said Clayton, who had nailed three extra points before his miss.
“He doesn’t dwell on things. He realizes a lot of good things happen and bad things happen and you move on,” said Shell. “It’s how you bounce back.”
Clayton has added six touchdown passes to the one he tossed in his debut, and the 6-foot-2, 180-pound 10th-grader has yet to be intercepted. He went 7-for-12 for a season-high 116 yards with scoring passes to Quesada and Brown, and also booted his first field goal in last week’s win.
“He doesn’t try to do too much. He’s confident in his abilities, but he realizes he’s part of a team,” said Shell. “He understands that if you do your job, and everyone else does their job, there’s a good chance good things will happen.”
Clayton’s move into the starting lineup has had a positive domino effect on the state’s No. 5-ranked team, with Maynard and Quesada forming a superb one-two running back punch. Maynard ran for 182 yards and a touchdown last week, and Quesada scored for the 22nd time with his reception.
“They’re both excellent athletes,” said Clayton. “It’s easy to hand them the ball and let them work.”
The backfield realignment has David Newell playing linebacker exclusively after the senior split time with Quesada early in the season.
“It makes us more explosive with Danny back there, and Dave can do his thing as a linebacker,” said Quesada.
“He [Newell] has energized our defense,” said Clayton.
Quesada had an interception inside the final minute to finish off Troy last week in a game that sent Burnt Hills to its eighth straight Super Bowl. The Spartans will be going after their sixth straight win, which would be a Section II record.
“It was definitely a confidence boost. It gave us the belief we can win big games,” said Quesada, one of BH-BL’s 19 seniors. “Troy was a great team. We feel if we get in a dogfight, we can keep plugging away for the win.”
Clayton is hoping to direct another championship effort after his team beat Queensbury in the 2012 JV final. Queensbury beat the BH-BL JVs earlier that season before that title-game rematch.
“This is bigger,” said Clayton. “It’s going to be physical. We’ve got to go out and play football like we know how.”
Queensbury used its tight double-wing offense to overpower Amsterdam in a 59-26 semifinal win, and reach its first title game since 2004. Brett Rodriguez scored three touchdowns and Kalen
Minott scored two as the state’s No. 2-ranked team surpassed 40 points for the sixth time.
“They’ve got great running backs and a physical line. That’s their tradition,” said Shell. “They run the same offense 85 percent of the time, and you have to be in tune on every play. You can’t take a break.”
Burnt Hills hasn’t lost in the Section II tournament since the 2007 Super Bowl, when Lansingburgh posted a 28-25 win.
“For the seniors, this might be the last hoo-rah. Lose and you’re done,” said Quesada. “We’re going to try to keep the dream alive so we can keep playing football.”
Schalmont (9-0) and Broadalbin-Perth (8-1) meet for the Class B championship today at 3 at Shenendehowa, with the Sabres eyeing their fourth area banner in five years.
Schalmont lost to Glens Falls in last season’s final, 21-14, and its path back has included five shutouts, a 21-3 win over Broadalbin-Perth in Week 4, and 24 points allowed.
The Sabres gave up their first touchdown since Week 3 in a 35-8 semifinal win over Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk. Nick Gallo threw two of his three touchdown passes to Kyle Strube, and Strube also ran for a score to spark the offense.
Andre Taylor ran for three touchdowns, and Broadalbin-Perth rallied from a 12-0 deficit to beat Cohoes, 41-32, in its semifinal.
Broadalbin-Perth has played in one championship game before, in 1988, and lost to Lake George (Class C/D).
Cambridge (9-0) and Rensselaer (8-1) play for the Class D championship today at 1 at Schuylerville.
The Indians beat the Rams in Week 6, and stretched their unbeaten record with a 58-24 semifinal victory over Salem. The Rams topped Greenwich in the semis, 42-34.
Cambridge beat Rensselaer in the 2011 and 2010 finals.