SCHENECTADY — With a dozen points and a dazzling defensive effort Saturday night at Schenectady High School, the Tri-City Spartans claimed this year’s Empire Football League championship.
“Our defense, they played lights out,” Tri-City head coach Darrin Earing Sr. said. “They were aggressive all game. The last couple games, we gave up more points than we normally have, but today they were hyped and they played great.”
The Schenectady-based Spartans, a second-year franchise that regularly practices at Mont Pleasant Middle School, topped the Mohawk Valley NightHawks 12-0 at Larry Mulvaney Field to take the EFL title. The Spartans were the top seed in this year’s postseason. Tri-City topped Plattsburgh 35-21 in last weekend’s semifinals, while Mohawk Valley had beaten Watertown 34-28 in its semifinal.
Last year, the Spartans lost in the semifinals.
“Our motto all year was ‘Unfinished business,’” Spartans owner and general manager Mark Capano said. “That [how last year ended] was the first thing we talked about when we came into this season. We looked at where we were lacking, and we tried to build up those areas. We have a lot of youth and a lot of experience, but we needed to build a cohesive team — and coach Earing did that.”
After a scoreless first quarter, Tri-City took a 6-0 advantage late in the second. After breaking a few tackles, Kireme Pitts found the end zone to finish a 12-yard touchdown run with 1:51 to go in the first half.
“That took a lot of [pressure] off of us,” Earing said. “There were a lot of nerves. That first touchdown eased them down for us.”
Tri-City didn’t have to wait too long to add to its lead. Several minutes into the third quarter, Nakia Boozer Jr. connected with Josh Mason for a 44-yard touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Spartans defense rarely allowed any sustained drives for Mohawk Valley. Tri-City came up with a red-zone stop to close the first half, and the NightHawks didn’t come that close again to scoring until their final desperation drive of the evening.
“The defense was the MVP, without a doubt,” Earing said.
The Spartans went 9-1 during the regular season, outscoring their opponents 223-124 during those 10 games. The team’s lone loss came at Watertown following a 6-0 start to the season.
Capano said the Spartans’ season will continue with a regional playoff game against the Granite State Destroyers of the East Coast Football League.
Mohawk Valley 0 0 0 0 — 0
Tri-City 0 6 6 0 — 12
T — Pitts 12 run (kick failed)
T — Mason 44 pass from Boozer Jr. (kick failed)