There were days last fall when Kyle Pick just didn’t want to go to school.
Seven of them, to be specific.
“I remember that feeling walking through the hallways and being in class. You couldn’t get away from it. We lost again,” the Niskayuna senior receiver and cornerback said of his football team’s seven setbacks without a win. “Having experienced last year, it’s always on your mind. You don’t want to go through it again.”
The Silver Warriors won’t have to. They ended an eight-game slide last week with a 19-15 comeback win against South Glens Falls and nearly pulled another one out Friday, driving down their home field late before a Nelson Travis interception sealed Mohonasen’s 20-16 victory.
Mohonasen is another team looking to make strides this year and even bigger ones in the future.
“We’re a rebuilding team. They’re a rebuilding team,” said Mohonasen senior quarterback and free safety Nate Stillson. “We beat them pretty bad last year [53-27], and I’ve got to give them props. They’re not the squad they were.”
Friday night’s contest, which saw Niskayuna claw back from a 14-0 deficit, backed that up.
“Last year was about surviving,” said senior quarterback and safety Jake Shephard, one of the 22 guys who made up Niskayuna’s 2014 edition. “This year we want to win and score touchdowns and have fun. Now we have experience. We’ve got seniors. We’ve got a line.”
They’ve got numbers, too, with a roster of 38. What they don’t have is any hope for a playoff berth. Niskayuna is a Class AA school based on enrollment, but for the second season requested to play as a Class A independent as it rebuilds. Niskayuna coach John Furey said his varsity will likely rejoin the Class AA ranks next year or the year after.
“We’re in a real good situation,” Furey said. “We split our modified into a seventh-grade team and an eighth-grade team to get each kid more reps. We joined the youth league [Capital District Youth Football League] two years ago, which we thought was real important. We’ve got a huge freshman class with multi-sport athletes.”
“We have potential. That’s what we’ve been told,” said Aidan Stevens, the starting center on Niskayuna’s freshman team. “The coaches believe in us.”
Pick believes this season is going to be the start of something big for a Niskayuna varsity that went 2-7 in 2013 and 3-6 in 2012 following four winning campaigns.
“You can see the jump from last year to this year, and why wouldn’t it continue?” Pick said. “Niskayuna will be a force to be reckoned with.”
“We went through some rough times. We didn’t have any numbers,” Shephard said. “I think we’re a program on the incline. I envision it going strong.”
But what’s there for this current crop of seniors?
“We’re here because we want to play football,” Shephard said. “Everyone on this team loves football. It’s obvious. Kids went through hell and they came back.”
Furey can relate.
“When I played, we played nine games. No playoffs. No championships. You just played football,” Furey said. “It was an opportunity to play a great game. It was such a great experience. I want these guys to have a great experience, and winning does help. Winning is a part of that.”
Shephard and the other 18 Niskayuna seniors realize they’re being asked not only to perform on the field, but set a positive example off it.
“We’ve got our captains, but every senior here is here to lead,” he said. “We can’t be a distraction. We can’t goof off. If we do, it falls apart. If we do the right things it not only helps the team, but others will follow. All of those younger guys.”
Stevens said he can’t wait to be part of the varsity.
“In five years, to be honest, we’re going to be solid,” said Stevens, who helped the freshman group beat Guilderland Wednesday. "I think we can be one of the better teams in the Capital District.”
Niskayuna (1-2) and Mohonasen (1-2) were evenly matched Friday, but the turnover battle went the Mighty Warriors way, and so did the contest.
Nelson recovered a fumble early in the fourth quarter before his sideline interception with a minute left sealed the outcome. Stillson ran for two touchdowns, his second jaunt after Nelson’s recovery giving Mohonasen a 20-8 advantage.
“I thought we played inspired football,” Furey said. “It hurts to lose this one. Look at the guys’ faces. In a sense, it’s good to see that.”
Shephard’s touchdown pass to Jared Houghtaling, and his two-pointer to DJ Endres, pulled Niskayuna within 20-16 with 5:27 left.
“Niskayuna is tougher than last year. More physical,” said new Mohonasen coach Scott Sabourin, who had served as an assistant at Niskayuna the past few years. “They’re going to win more games.”
Mohonasen 6 8 0 6 — 20
Niskayuna 0 8 0 8 — 16
M — Deguire 1 run (kick failed).
M — Stillson 19 run (Stillson run).
N — Malerk 83 kickoff return (Shephard run).
M — Stillson 3 run (kick failed).
N — Houghtaling 23 pass from Shephard (Endres pass from Shephard).