Josh Quesada didn’t play much defense this season, but when Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake needed one last stop to make it back to its eighth straight Super Bowl, the senior was out there on the Troy turf.
“We put him in at the end because he has a nose for the ball,” said Spartans coach Matt Shell. “Wouldn’t you know, the ball found him.”
Quesada gobbled up a tipped pass to seal a 24-19 victory, adding another significant play to his 2013 resume that included 22 touchdowns.
Eleven of those scoring efforts covered 20 yards or more.
“He’s a physical player, yet he has the elusiveness to make a guy miss, and the speed where you can’t catch him,” Shell said of the Daily Gazette Offensive Player of the Year. “He brings a lot of tools to the game.”
Of the talented backs Burnt Hills has produced in its near decade of excellence, Quesada may be the most versatile, and at the same time, one of its least imposing at 5-feet-8 and 165 pounds.
“He plays a lot bigger than his stature,” Shell said. “There’s a nastiness to him, as far as football goes, and he doesn’t go down easily. He definitely gave us every ounce of what he had, and we were fortunate to have a kid like that.”
The Section II Class A Player of the Year eluded several tacklers and scored on a 20-yard run to cap Burnt Hills’ 18-12 four-overtime win against Troy in Week 2. Quesada ran for 16 touchdowns in all, returned kicks for three touchdowns to tie for first in Section II in that category, and caught three scoring passes. Twice he notched four touchdowns in a game, and on three occasions, he reached the end zone three times.
“He’s more than a running back. He’s that all-purpose kid. He had over 2,000 yards of total offense,” said Shell. “He’s that kid who can run the ball, return to ball and come out of the backfield and catch that ball. He’s got a talent.”
When the Spartans soared past Lansingburgh, 69-25, to begin the season, Quesada’s three-touchdown performance included a kickoff return covering 84 yards and a punt return that went for 77.
“On punt returns, if he got 10 yards, that was one less first down we had to get, but so many times, he went for 20 or 30,” said Shell. “That takes a lot of pressure off of your offense.”
Quesada ran 108 times for 1,075 yards, and led all Section II backs with 26 receptions for 348 yards.
“He’s a heck of a baseball player, and being a middle infielder, he has those soft hands. He can make a tough catch look routine,” said Shell. “We wanted to take advantage of his receiving ability and get him out in space.”
Quesada rushed for over 100 yards seven times, and churned for a season-high 188 in the first Troy game. In the second matchup with Troy, he caught a touchdown pass to go with his finishing pickoff.
“He was as elusive as last year. As a junior, Josh had his big runs and big games,” said Shell, who, in 2012, saw Quesada scored 13 touchdowns, his last coming in BH-BL’s state title-game win over Sweet Home. “He got stronger, and he was able to be a physical runner on top of that.”
Quesada is joined in the All-Area backfield by repeat first-teamers Felix Rodriguez of Schenectady and Devon Willis of state finalist Schalmont, and Elliott Croskey of Section II Class AA champ Christian Brothers Academy.
Rodriguez took over as Schenectady’s featured running back and delivered 1,232 yards and 11 touchdowns after earning Gazette All-Area honors for his receiving as a junior.
“There’s nothing the kid can’t do on the football field,” Patriots coach Mark Cerrone said of the Class AA Liberty Division Player of the Year. “He was recognized by our league because of his above-average consistency in all three (rushing, receiving, returning kicks) categories. On top of that, he was one of our best defensive guys.”
An injury pressed Rodriguez into quarterback duties in the second half against Colonie, and the team captain directed three touchdown drives in a 34-28 comeback win. Rodriguez scored two of those three TDs and totaled 176 rushing yards, one of his six games with over 100.
“He knew the plays, but be didn’t practice them as our quarterback,” said Cerrone. “He went in, ran our read-option and won that game for us.”
Rodriguez ran for 315 yards against Bethlehem and gained 223 against Niskayuna, often following blocks by All-Area first-team tackle Justin Richards. He also had eight catches for 108 yards against LaSalle.
“Performance aside, Felix was the anchor of our team,” Cerrone said of the three-year varsity starter. “How he went was how we went, as far as attitude and work ethic.”
On Sunday, Willis will be trying to add a state championship to his vast collection of accomplishments that include a trio of 1,000-yard rushing seasons and a third Gazette All-Area first-team nod.
The chief weapon in an offense full of talented athletes, Willis has rushed for 1,171 yards and 18 touchdowns despite missing a game and most of another early in the season with a high ankle sprain. The senior also has two scoring grabs, and has returned two of his five interceptions for touchdowns, both of them coming in the state playoffs.
“In our first game, he was ill and then he missed time with the ankle. He was pretty frustrated, but he was able to bounce back,” Schalmont coach Joe Whipple said of the four-year varsity player and two-time all-state first team selection. “When we’ve needed a first down or a big play, he’s done it. He’s really played all out.”
The Class B West Division Offensive Player of the Year became Schalmont’s career rushing leader when he gained 250 yards in a 27-0 win Cobleskill-Richmondville, and helped the Sabres secure their fourth Section II title in five years with 128 yards and four TD runs in a 54-7 triumph over Broadalbin-Perth.
Willis joins a short list of three-time Gazette first-teamers, with Burnt Hills linebacker Dylan Wydronkowski (2009-11) being the last.
CBA’s Mr. Consistency, Croskey rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Brothers’ 11 games and scored in all but one of them.
“His combination of speed and power is hard to handle for a defensive player,” said CBA coach Joe Burke.
The Empire Division Player of the Year led all Section II Class AA backs with 1,580 rushing yards, points with 122, rushing touchdowns with 18 and total TDs with 20. Croskey also had nine catches for 130 yards and led the Brothers with nine sacks from his defensive end spot.
“He put a lot of work in in the offseason,” said Burke. “He ran indoor and outdoor track, and fell in love with the weight room, and reached the level of a top back.”
LaSalle senior wideout Dylan Thompson topped all of Section II with 18 touchdown receptions, which is believed to be an area record, including five in a 40-7 win over Indian River. With a super-quick first step and speed in the open field, the Liberty Division first-team star worked for a Section II-best 45 receptions, and gained 1,089 yards for the third-best total in area history.
Thompson returned a kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown in LaSalle’s last game against Shenendehowa, after catching scoring passes from Will Williams covering 65 and 60 yards.
The Guilderland pass-catch combination of Frank Gallo and Jake Smith set several school records in leading the Dutchmen to their most wins (six) since 2007 while earning first-team Empire Division accolades.
Gallo set school records with 2,027 passing yards (136-for-246, nine interceptions) to top the 1,758 he had as a junior, and 25 completions in a 31-28 overtime win against Shaker to top the 24 and 23 he had in games last season. Gallo’s 19 TD passes, including five against Albany, tied Ryan Smith’s school record.
“He did things at quarterback you rarely see at the high school level,” said Guilderland coach Dan Penna. “As a pure passer, his mechanics were perfect. He was accurate. His eyes were always down field. His feet were always moving.”
Gallo opened the season with a 333-yard effort against Ballston Spa and then passed for 310 against Albany. His 2,027 yards rank No. 9 on the all-time Section II list.
“He has the intangible of toughness,” Shenendehowa coach Brian Clawson said of Gallo. “He got hammered a few times, and he kept getting up.”
Smith broke his own school records with 799 receiving yards, 149 in a single game against Shenendehowa, and 42 receptions with a high of seven.
The senior caught his third TD pass for the game-winner when the Dutchmen edged Shenendehowa, 29-22, and scored all of the points with three more TD grabs in a 31-18 loss to Saratoga Springs.
“He runs as good a route I’ve seen in high school, and he can catch anything,” said Penna.
Bethlehem senior Spencer Ferrigan was so impressive as a special-teams player that Liberty Division coaches selected him as their first-team all-star kicker and punter. He earned the Gazette All-Area kicking nod after making 27 of 29 extra points and hitting three of four field-goal tries with a long of 41 yards.
Joining Richards on the All-Area line is center Alex Plastini of Shenendehowa, combo guard-tackle Griffin Clark of CBA, Amsterdam guard Tyler Cranker and Guilderland guard Julian Christiano. Plastini was tabbed the North’s top lineman at the Section II senior game.