Nick Gallo delivered the first big hit in Saturday’s state semifinal game when he downed quarterback Ryan Cary for no gain on Marlboro’s initial play from scrimmage.
Schalmont kept hammering away after Gallo’s tone-setting stop. His fumble recovery late in the first half was Schalmont’s fifth takeaway, and his touchdown pass that followed capped a 60-point outburst in what would be a 66-0 Class B victory.
“It’s every game with him,” Schalmont coach Joe Whipple said of his star inside linebacker. “He comes up with big plays. He comes up with big tackles that swing momentum our way all the time.”
Gallo is the unquestioned leader of the state’s stingiest Class B team, with his 106 tackles 42 more than any other Sabre has accumulated. The Daily Gazette Defensive Player of the Year recorded 13 solo tackles, five of them for a loss, when the Sabres beat Cobleskill-Richmondville, 27-0, for one of their six shutouts.
“He’s definitely the spine of our defense,” Whipple said of the 6-foot, 175-pound junior. “When he plays well, our defense plays well.”
Schalmont has been super-sharp since a season-opening 51-0 blanking of Glens Falls. Gallo’s contributions that day included a fumble return for a touchdown and a scoring catch, one of the six he had before taking over as Schalmont’s starting quarterback midway through the season.
“He hasn’t had a bad game yet. He sets a high standard for himself and probably thinks some of them could have been better, but the kid has been nothing but fantastic on defense,” said Whipple. “I can’t remember him missing a tackle.”
Affectionately called “The Beast” by his coaches and teammates, Gallo is outstanding at finding the ball, and his tackling technique is exceptional. He’s been performing at a high level for three varsity seasons, playing safety and outside linebacker as a freshman and sophomore before shifting inside.
“We felt Nick was growing,” said Whipple. “We felt by putting him inside, he could secure things.”
The Class B West Division co-Player of the Year had 11 tackles and blocked a punt when Schalmont beat Hudson Falls to complete a perfect regular season. Gallo had 12 tackles and blocked another punt for a safety when Schalmont beat Green Tech after that for the first of its five playoff victories. His stat line also shows four sacks and three interceptions, one of them coming in the Sabres’ Super Bowl win over Broadalbin-Perth.
“His leverage, tenacity and aggressiveness, that comes from his wrestling background,” said Whipple. “He’s like his brother.”
Gallo wears No. 36 to honor his older brother, Vince, who in 2009 was named the Gazette’s Offensive Player of the Year after leading Schalmont to its first of four Section II titles with his play at quarterback and safety.
Nick Gallo has had several impressive performances since taking the quarterback reins, with a season-best three touchdown runs against Marlboro and a season-high three TD passes in the sectional semifinals against Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk.
“How many kids in Section II play middle linebacker and quarterback as well as he does?” asked Whipple.
Nick Stiansen played the linebacker position with great skill and determination, and totaled 101 tackles with 59 solo stops as part of Saratoga Springs’ seven-win turnaround season. The Class AA Empire Division Defensive Player of the Year also caused two fumbles and recovered two, and had two sacks among his seven tackles for a loss.
“He was just dominant,” said Saratoga coach Terry Jones.
A 100 average student, Stiansen helped the Blue Streaks hold seven opponents under 100 rushing yards, and also caught a pair of TD passes.
Gallo and Stiansen are joined by the Class A Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Byrnes of Troy and David Newell of Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, who finished their senior seasons with 82 tackles apiece.
Byrnes made 51 solo stops, picked off a pass and recovered two fumbles, and was selected the standout defender at the Section II senior game. Newell had 12 tackles for a loss, five of them sacks, and ran for six touchdowns.
“Great instincts and a great tackler,” said Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell. “He [Newell] moves well side to side and in tight spaces, and finishes plays.”
The All-Area first-team line includes Burnt Hills tackle Nico Fragale and end Paul Krowel, whose blocked extra point in the third overtime and fumble recovery in the fourth helped the Spartans clip Troy in Week 2.
“His length and athleticism is a great combination,” Shell said of Krowel, who had 53 tackles, 24 of them for a loss, and eight sacks. “He was always in the backfield. He was always making big plays at crucial times.”
Marcus Ramundo of Schalmont is the Gazette’s other All-Area defensive end, and the three-year starter will be looking to make a difference one last time in Sunday’s state final against Maine-Endwell. He’ll go in with 58 tackles, five sacks and a scoring fumble recovery on his ledger.
“Marcus has been fantastic,” said Whipple. “He’s played like you want a senior to play.”
Fragale clogged the middle with great effect, as did D’Angelo Livingston of Guilderland and Nick Griffin of Shaker, and the trio also played significant roles as run and pass blockers on the flip side.
Fragale had 33 tackles, and four sacks among his nine tackles for a loss.
“He’s as good a defensive lineman as we’ve had,” said Shell. “He’s awesome. He’s athletic and moves well. He’s been a great performer for us since his sophomore year.”
Livingston recorded four sacks among 44 tackles and recovered two fumbles, while Griffin’s outstanding season included an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown. The Class AA Liberty Division Defensive Player of the Year helped Shaker notch four shutouts.
Don Vivian of Section II Class AA champ Christian Brothers leads the All-Area secondary after collecting a team-high 95 tackles, five sacks and an area-best seven interceptions. The junior safety is coupled with 12th-graders Mike Graves of Bethlehem and Micaiah Henningham of Guilderland, who excelled in coverage and topped their respective teams in rushing yards.
Graves was in on 35 tackles, returned one of his two interceptions 101 yards for a TD against Shenendehowa, and had an 89-yard kickoff return for a TD against Niskayuna. The Liberty Division All-Purpose Player of the Year had 12 TDs in all and amassed 1,537 rushing, receiving and return yards.
Henningham had 30 solo tackles among his 61, and scored a school record-tying four touchdowns against Bethlehem. He also scored four in a game last year to go with two game-sealing interceptions.
“He was our best cover guy, and he’s a great run stopper,” said Guilderland coach Dan Penna of the three-year starter.
First-team punter Dan Maynard of Burnt Hills averaged 36.3 yards per boot, yet also shined with his ability to pin opponents deep with shorter, accurate kicks along the sideline. The junior played both quarterback and running back, and had a hand in 16 touchdowns for the Section II Class A runner-up Spartans.