Ballston Spa is among a handful of teams that won four straight Section II games to conclude the 2013 season. The Scotties didn’t win at all before that.
“It was real nice to end the season that way. It took us a while with new stuff, new players,” said Ballston Spa coach Dave Murello. “It took us a while to figure out who we were.”
They’re seniors now with a goal to keep their streak alive. New-look Schenectady will be trying to start one when the young Patriots host the Scotties tonight in a Class AA crossover at Larry Mulvaney Field.
Schenectady’s three-game slide to finish 2013 included a 48-26 loss to Ballston Spa.
“He [Murello] wants to set the tone for the season. So do we,” said Schenectady’s second-year coach, Mark Cerrone. “We’ve got some guys who are kind of itching to get back on the field with those guys.”
Fullback Matt Hommel, quarterbacks Derek Chandler and Luke Kavanaugh, and slots Shane Winkle and Andy Van Avery are among Ballston Spa’s veteran cast. Hommel scored two touchdowns when the Scotties beat the Pats last year, and Kavanaugh scored two in a 48-7 win over Niskayuna to start their streak.
“We’ve got eight players on offense and defense coming back who saw a ton of time,” said Murello. “We’re really excited.”
Murello likes the way his flexbone offense is starting to jell. He’s got Chris Stedry, Jasper Graves and Mike Curcurito back on the line, another veteran fullback in Taylor Gray, and Nebraska transfer Tyler Hall at slot in the offensive mix.
“We want to force you to honor all three phases,” said Murello, whose flexbone features the fullback dive, quarterback option keeper and QB pitch.
Schenectady couldn’t handle Ballston Spa’s quick and deceptive schemes last year. Columbia put up 48 points and Shaker had 42 in wins over the Pats before that in a close that left them 3-5 and out of the playoffs for the first time in seven years.
“Coach Murello will put together a package that will give us fits. It’s a different game with them, and we’ve definitely been doing our homework,” said Cerrone. “While we want to win, we don’t want to hype ourselves out. We’ve got to make sure everybody is sound in what they’re doing. We’ve been meticulous in what we’re doing.”
Schenectady has changed from a 4-3 to a 4-2 defense, and has only end Lasheen Brunson and corner Jayquan Beckford as returning starters. Schenectady is also employing a new spread offense led by veterans Brandon Gwinner at quarterback, and Brunson, Josh Fisherauer and Mike Moore on the line.
“It’s going to be huge to have success early,” said Cerrone. “We’ve got a lot of fresh faces on the team. They need to know what we’re doing is working. They need to know they’re doing the work and we can be successful. They’ve got to have that belief in the system.”
Schenectady had mixed results in a scrimmage with Amsterdam Saturday. The Pats didn’t score much, but didn’t give up much, either.
“The tempo wasn’t there in the beginning, then we started to play better,” said Brunson.
“We have to be a 48-minute team. We can’t be a 24-minute team,” said Moore. “We’ve got to go all-out for four quarters. That’s how we’re going to win this year.”
Murello is wary of Schenectady despite its new cast of lead characters. The skill group will include multiple threat Colby Youngblood and runners John DerBoghossian and Keenan Chandler, a team newcomer who had some big basketball performances last winter.
“We’re not one-dimentional. The look is what it is,” said Cerrone. “We’ll come out in a spread. Maybe we’ll pass. Maybe we won’t.”
“Their quarterback throws well. They’ve definitely got weapons. They’ve got some good hitters. They’re good. That being said, we want to get out and go. A fast start is what you want,” said Murello. “We’ve been pushing it. We’ve talked to the guys about taking ownership of the game.”
Ballston Spa faced a difficult five-game schedule to start Murello’s first season and suffered Empire Division losses against eventual Class AA champ Christian Brothers Academy, Shenendehowa and Saratoga Springs.
“I think Section II did a good job of matching up teams with similar records [from 2013] in the first few weeks,” said Murello. “You should see some really competitive games.”