Bryce Mussen's primary role with the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake football team was to finish what others started, and he often did so with a resounding thump.
"Being in the middle like that, you are going to have opportunities," Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake coach Matt Shell said. "It's another thing to do the job. He had opportunities, and he produced."
The senior inside linebacker Mussen delivered his finest performance when Burnt Hills avenged a loss to Queensbury with a 21-16 Class A Super Bowl win, and with that effort helped the Spartans snag their third consecutive championship. That 12-tackle outing also added addition weight in his selection as The Daily Gazette's 2018 Defensive Player of the Year.
"He had a great championship game," Shell said of the 6-foot-2, 210-pound defensive ace. "It was probably his best all-around game. He made a bunch of tackles and had a tackle for a loss. He set up a touchdown with an interception. He forced a fumble. And he did it against one of the best teams in the state."
Mussen will certainly be up for all-state consideration after making 27 solo tackles and assisting on 69 more. The Class A Grasso Division Defensive Player of the Year led Burnt Hills with those 96 stops.
"He's so big and strong and physical," said Glens Falls coach Pat Lilac, whose state Class B title-winning team felt Mussen's impact in a 55-27 non-league loss to Burnt Hills. "He made the pile go backwards."
And he helped Burnt Hills (9-2) move forward in another successful campaign that was highlighted by Shell's 150th win in the Section II final. That triumph over Queensbury marked the eighth game in which Burnt Hills surrendered two touchdowns or fewer.
"He [Mussen] improved a ton from his junior to senior year, and he had a good junior year," Shell said. "He had that extra year of experience, and came back and was such a big part of our defensive success. He solidified our middle."
Mussen had seven tackles for a loss, including three sacks, hurried quarterbacks five times, and forced two fumbles and recovered one. As a tight end and wingback, he ran for 145 yards and a touchdown, and shared the team lead with 11 pancake blocks.
The Gazette All-Area first-team linebacker cast also features seniors Darnell Green of Schalmont, Nick Popolizio of Guilderland, Mahdi Elsawi of Saratoga Springs and junior David Barclay of Glens Falls.
Green was involved in 83 tackles with four sacks, and the Reinfurt Division first-team all-star recovered three fumbles and intercepted four passes, one of them clinching a 14-6 win over Troy. The four-year varsity performer emerged as one of Section II's best two-way players in 2018, and in a 63-14 win over Ichabod Crane he scored twice on runs as well as a reception, fumble return and kickoff return.
"He's a stud," Schalmont All-Area third-team quarterback Shane O'Dell said of his teammate. "He's fast. He can catch. He's strong. He can do everything."
Popolizio was tabbed the Class AA Defensive Player of the Year after notching 94 tackles (41 solo) and forcing two fumbles. He also kicked 15 PATs and was 3-for-3 in field goal attempts, averaged nine yards on 18 receptions, and delivered key blocks as a tight end, slot and fullback.
"He never left the field for us," said Guilderland coach Dan Penna. "Huge impact player."
Elsawi earned Class AA first-team laurels after making a team-leading 81 tackles, including 50 solo stops, to go with an interception and a fumble recovery. A member of two Section II finalist teams, Elsawi was tabbed the Blue Streaks' 2018 defensive MVP.
Barclay was in on 89 tackles, forced three fumbles and recovered three fumbles. The North Division All-Purpose Player of he Year also had 44 receptions for 893 yards and nine touchdowns, his last coming in the state championship game when the Indians knocked off Batavia 55-32.
Senior defensive end Terrelle Bonner-Welch was another impact player for the Indians with 40 solo tackles, 90 tackles overall, and 16 quarterback sacks. He is joined on the Gazette All-Area defensive line by Shenendehowa senior end Andy Weyrauch, Cambridge/Salem senior tackle Nate Genevick and Stillwater junior tackle Brian McNeil.
Weyrauch made 50 tackles with four sacks in earning Class AA all-league honors for the second time. The senior was also among Section II's top offensive guards.
Genevick was a two-way line mainstay as his teams won a trio of Section II championships and state Class D titles in 2016 and 2017. The 2018 Class C North Defensive Player of the Year amassed 105 tackles this season.
A two-year captain, McNeil led Stillwater in tackles with 65 and sacks with six, and recovered two fumbles.
"Brian is an absolute force on the defensive line and would be at any level," Stillwater coach Ian Godfrey said of the Central Division Defensive Player of the Year. "Teams game-planned away from Brian and he still was able to impose his will."
Averill Park senior Jake Bornt provided plenty of hits from his safety spot, finishing with 87 tackles along with five interceptions. The Capital Division All-Purpose Player of the Year also had four touchdowns and 383 yards on 21 receptions.
Bornt is joined in the All-Area secondary by seniors Stratton Sherman of Schuylerville, Nelon Priest of Holy Trinity and Shaker's Shane Lavender, whose 88-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed a 28-14 Super Bowl win over Saratoga.
Lavender, a Class AA first-team all-star, finished with six interceptions and 46 tackles.
Sherman was tabbed the North Division Offensive Player of the Year but excelled in the secondary, as well, for a Schuylerville team that strung six wins together to reach the Class B semifinals.
Priest led a strong Holy Trinity secondary with six interceptions after getting 10 last year when the Pride reached the state Class C title game. He also had two sacks among 27 tackles, averaged 39 yards on kick returns, and scored nine touchdowns running and receiving.
"Nelon did a great job for us again," Holy Trinity coach John Barber said of the 2017 all-state first-team selection.
Saratoga senior Hunter Regels is the Gazette All-Area punter after averaging 43 yards per boot. He was twice named a Class AA first-team all-star for his work on special teams, but also made a defensive impact from his end spot. This season his 54 tackles included 15 for a loss and six of those were quarterback sacks.
DL — Andy Weyrauch, 12, 6-4, 240, Shenendehowa
DL — Brian McNeil, 11, 6-3, 240, Stillwater
DL — Terrelle Bonner-Welch, 12, 5-8, 165, Glens Falls
DL — Nathan Genevick, 12, 6-5, 270, Cambridge/Salem
LB — Bryce Mussen, 12, 6-2, 210, Burnt Hills
LB — Mahdi Elsawi, 12, 6-2, 210, Saratoga
LB — Nick Popolizio, 12, 5-11, 205, Guilderland
LB — Darnell Green, 12, 6-0, 190, Schalmont
LB — David Barclay, 11, 6-0, 180, Glens Falls
DB — Shane Lavender, 12, 6-0, 175, Shaker
DB — Jake Bornt, 12, 6-2, 200, Averill Park
DB — Nelon Priest, 12, 5-9, 170, Holy Trinity
DB — Stratton Sherman, 12, 6-2, 185, Schuylerville
P — Hunter Regels, 12, 6-2, 205, Saratoga
DL — Nick Danahy, 11, Glens Falls
DL — Pat Nichols, 12, C0bleskill-Richmondville
DL — Dylan Olson, 12, Guilderland
DL — Spencer Goldstein, 12, Hudson
LB — Nate Ratigan, 11, Shaker
LB — Brodryk Benton, 12, Broadalbin-Perth
LB — Kyle Nethercott, 12, Averill Park
LB — Dante Coppola, 12, Scotia-Glenville
DB — Xavier Leigh, 10, Troy
DB — Dan Motta, 12, Mechanicville
DB — LJ Randle, 12, Schalmont
DB — Nick Cardinal, 12, Guilderland
DB — James Galarneau, 11, Stillwater
DL — Chris Ramundo, 11, Bethlehem
DL — Zach Washington, 12, Ballston Spa
DL — Jacob Gonzalez, 12, Mechanicville
DL — Todd Williamson, 10, Holy Trinity
LB — Connor Girard, 12, Glens Falls
LB — Jake Palmer, 12, Voorheesville
LB — Ben Burchardt,11, Schalmont
LB — Bryan Grimes, 12, Colonie
DB — Trey Stover, 12 Johnstown
DB — Trey Ausfeld, 12, Amsterdam
DB — Evan MacDuff, 12, Warrensburg
DB — Logan Stubblebine, 11, Burnt Hills
DB — Ja-Del Whitfield, 12, Holy Trinity