Running back Mike Leveroni took the handoff from quarterback John Clayton on a sweep off right tackle. Just beyond the line of scrimmage, he made a hard plant with his right foot before quickly darting left on his way to a 24-yard second-quarter gain.
The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior made the same type of plant and sharp cut on a kickoff to begin the second half. His 43-yard return set up the final touchdown in the Spartans’ 42-0 victory over Bishop Maginn Friday night.
Leveroni was playing his final home opener in a familiar athletic complex . . . on a field he never played on before.
“I didn’t know how it was going to be,” Leveroni said after Burnt Hills’ first game on its new turf field, which replaced a natural grass surface. “I didn’t know if I was going to get eaten by the turf monster — you know, how when it’s hot and you get stuck in it. None of that happened.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s new synthetic turf field looks like grass and plays like it, too, just as former athletic director Bob McGuire envisioned when he devised plans for the high school’s new athletic facility.
Lansingburgh has the same A-Turf, McGuire said. The Buffalo Bills play on it, too. Aesthetically, it looks like natural grass, but the field holds up better in the inclement Northeast.
Plus, there is an element of glamour to high school kids to play on turf fields — just the majority of college and pro stars do.
“This was my last project,” McGuire said of the BH-BL’s student-athletes. (He retired in 2014.) “They earned it with their excellence.”
The turf field may look like and feel like grass — but everyone around said it’s better than the real thing.
“In my mind it’s the single best thing that’s happened to our athletic program,” BH-BL coach Matt Shell said. “It’s nice to say it’s ours.”
The Spartans were anxious to make their home debut in front of a large crowd.
“We get a sense of confidence on it,” Leveroni said. “It feels awesome, even on a hot day. We just love being on it.”
A week ago Burnt Hills opened on the road, beating Averill Park 47-7 in what they hope was the first step toward a 10th straight Section II title game. Step Two was similar in its nature, but nothing like any Spartan had ever experienced before.
“It was awesome coming through the banner. It was different,” Leveroni said. “With the renovations, they took a beautiful field and made it perfect.”
The field, with a protective pad underneath, stretches 120-by-70-yards so it can be used for lacrosse, field hockey and soccer as well as football, and is surrounded by an eight-lane track suitable for sectional competition. A gray brick wall lines the facility.
“We were doing preseason stuff, and looking at it every day, we couldn’t wait to play on it,” said Clayton, the senior quarterback. “We got the schedule and saw we wouldn’t get to play on it until our second game, and it was like, ‘Really?’
“Everyone else has already played on it and won. We had to go out there and win.”
All home openers are special. This was one-of-a-kind.
“There was a different attitude in the locker room,” Leveroni said. “We huddled up and said, ‘This is it. Time to get our first win on it.’ ”
Shell likes the new turf field for several reasons.
“I think it helps more in practice. That’s the hidden piece: Practices are crisper,” Shell said. “Our [grass] practice field can get chewed up and it gets choppy, and I’ve gone into games before not feeling too good because of our week leading up to it wasn’t so good.”
Shaker, which plays on grass, went up the Northway to Shenendehowa Friday night and beat the Plainsmen on their turf field 35-21. Afterward, Blue Bison quarterback Wahid Nabi said playing on the artificial surface played to his team’s strength.
“We always say Shen is out here on their turf and we are on our dirt fields and everything,” he said. “To play here, for one, we are excited to play, and our speed goes better on turf than it does on grass. On grass, we are fast, but on turf we are trying to be faster.”
Burnt Hills was faster, bigger and better on both sides Friday in its final prep before Class A division play.
“We love having the turf, but football is not about the surface. It’s about blocking and tackling,” Shell said. “No matter the surface, the game is not going to change.
Leveroni ran for 126 yards on seven carries and scored TDs on a run, pass and punt return, and the Spartans forced three turnovers.
Bishop Maginn 0 0 0 0 — 0
BH-BL 7 28 7 0 — 42
BH — O’Donnell 11 pass from Clayton (McCormick kick).
BH — Leveroni 27 run (McCormick kick).
BH — O’Donnell 3 run (McCormick kick).
BH — Leveroni 64 punt return (McCormick kick).
BH — Craig 1 run (McCormick kick).
BH — Leveroni 36 pass from Clayton (McCormick kick).