BURNT HILLS — Wednesday afternoon before practice, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football head coach Matt Shell and veteran assistants Shawn Kline and Gary Holtz were talking about Section II Class A semifinal opponent Troy, and some of the keys to another successful playoff outing.
"We've got to get off the field on third down," Shell said. "We cannot have special teams breakdowns, and we've got to get first downs on offense."
In 11 of the last 12 years, Burnt Hills did enough things on its check list to prevail in Week 9 and advance to a Section II championship game. Eight of those teams claimed area titles, four made it all the way to state finals and the 2012 squad was New York's best.
"There are a lot of things that go into it," Shell said of the deep playoff runs. "We have good kids who work hard, and a staff with a lot of continuity. Troy, too. Good kids and continuity with the coaching staff."
Burnt Hills (7-1) and Troy (7-1) are two of several remaining playoff programs looking to add to their grand football legacies this weekend. Friday's Burnt Hills at Troy game is of particular note in that it matches the two-time defending Section II Class A champ with a Troy team that won state Class AA crowns in 2016 and 2017.
"The thing they know how to do is win," Shell said of the Flying Horses, who have strung together seven wins since a season-starting loss to Schalmont. "They've been in close games and come out on top."
Troy beat Scotia-Glenville in the quarterfinals 14-7 for its 33rd win in 34 games, while Burnt Hills eliminated Columbia 49-6 to earn another semifinal trip. The week before, Troy beat Averill Park 24-12 in a game that decided first place in the Capital Division, and Burnt Hills lost a showdown for the Grasso Division top spot against Queensbury 42-21.
Queensbury (8-0) and Averill Park (7-1) meet in the other Class A semifinal, which will be played Friday at Schuylerville.
"It was good to get back in a groove," said Burnt Hills senior quarterback Darien LaPietro, who threw two touchdown passes against Columbia. "We made plays. We made blocks. If everyone does their job, look what happens."
Burnt Hills is on a mission to repeat its story from 2016, when it lost in the regular season to Averill Park and reversed the outcome in a Super Bowl rematch with the Warriors. Burnt Hills has Troy to deal with first, and Queensbury, possibly, later on.
"They fly around and go to the ball. Tough opponent," LaPietro said of Troy. "They have athletes. Athletes who make plays. We have to do our job and prevent them from making those plays."
Burnt Hills, as is often the case, has many multi-sport athletes in its lineup.
"With us, I encourage them to play as many sports as possible," Shell said. "It's athletes competing. There's no substitute for being in big games whether it's lacrosse, baseball or basketball. It helps as well."
LaPietro said the trust between player and coach has also factored in Burnt Hills' prolonged playoff success.
"It's buying into the tradition. It's buying into the coaches. They do a great job of making us believe," LaPietro said. "You can't question what they do. Does it work? Yes. It's such an easy train to get on and enjoy the ride."
Burnt Hills lost its only semifinal game in the Shell era in 2015 against Amsterdam, which later topped Troy for the Class A flag. Three of Burnt Hills' semifinal wins came against Troy and another playoff win against the Flying Horses came in the 2009 Super Bowl.
"Winning helps. People buy in," LaPietro said. "There is a respect for the records and what the previous teams have done."
Friday's Class AA semifinal round includes a turnaround game sending Saratoga Springs (6-2) to Shenendehowa (7-1). The Plainsmen beat the Blue Streaks at home last Friday 35-7 to gain the Class AA No. 2 seed and another home game against their longtime rival.
Shaker (8-0) will host Guilderland (5-3) in the other Class AA semifinal Friday in another rematch from the Suburban Council season.
Cobleskill-Rchmondville (6-2) will host Schuylerville (6-2) in a Class B semifinal Friday, that game pitting teams riding six-game win streaks. Two-time defending Class B champ Glens Falls (6-2) hosts Hudson Falls (5-3) Saturday.
Holy Trinity (7-1) continues its quest for a repeat Class C title at home Saturday against Chatham (7-1). Cambridge/Salem (8-0), the state Class D champ in 2016 and 2017, play Hoosick Falls (7-1) Saturday at Stillwater in the other Class C semi.
Behind Burnt Hills in terms of semifinal wins and Super Bowl appearances since 2006, Cambridge/Salem has eight, Hoosick Falls has seven and Schalmont has six. Troy is among several teams with five.