ROTTERDAM — The Schalmont football team will head into Friday's home Section II Class B quarterfinal game against Hudson Falls riding a three-game winning streak and with a share of a division championship to its credit.
The scenario was much different last fall, and it got even worse when the Sabres bowed out in their sectional opener at Schuylerville to complete a four-game slide.
"We had wide receivers playing tackle. We were switching up jerseys," Schalmont coach Joe Whipple said of the 2018 season's second half, when injuries and cases of Coxsackievirus took a toll on a team that had enjoyed a decade-long run of success. "We didn't have enough people. It's unfortunate because we had such a good start. I felt so bad for the seniors."
Whipple was feeling pretty good at Wednesday's practice as his Sabres (4-1, 5-2) prepped for Hudson Falls (2-3, 2-5). He knows this season could have taken a downward spiral, too, after a 34-8 Week 4 non-classification loss against Columbia.
Instead, Schalmont beat Ichabod Crane, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk and Holy Trinity to gain a share of the Reinfurt Division title with Holy Trinity (4-1, 6-1) and Cobleskill-Richmondville (4-1, 4-3). After tie-breakers, Schalmont earned the division's No.1 playoff seed, too.
"I looked in the mirror and thought, 'What can I do more?'" Whipple said. "It wasn't the Xs and Os, it was the kids. The kids didn't love each other. They didn't respect each other. They didn't trust each other. So I determined we had to focus on us."
Practices since the Columbia game have included on- and off-field work.
"Right after that game, we started a leadership and character program I had done before," Whipple said. "I should have done it earlier."
Lately, Schalmont has been quite an effective team..
"Staying healthy is a big part of it," Schalmont senior quarterback Jake Sanford said. "And kids buying into what we're doing. We have rallied together since the Columbia loss. That didn't hurt our [league] record, but it hurt our pride."
Schalmont defeated Ichabod Crane 55-8, Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk 42-7 and Holy Trinity 35-22 to secure its ninth division title in the 10 years Whipple has been in charge.
Schalmont's performance against Holy Trinity was by far its best of the season. Holy Trinity came in not only undefeated, but with a No. 6 state ranking and hadn't been seriously challenged. The Pride played the first half of that game without three regulars who were being disciplined, including standout receiver and safety Nacier Hundley.
"We came together," said Sanford, who ran for 171 yards and two touchdowns. "We understood we needed to make a statement. We were not going to let someone come to our field and walk all over us."
Senior Ben Burchhardt ran for 195 yards and three touchdowns in Schalmont's big win. The Sabres led 27-7 at the half, after Mark Fortes recovered a fumble and Burchhardt turned it into a late touchdown.
"It definitely built momentum for us, and built a nice cushion," Sanford said of the first half. "But we had to keep going on all cylinders."
Other games Friday and Saturday
In the other Class B quarterfinals, Schuylerville (6-1) will host Cobleskill-Richmondville Friday, and, on Saturday, Hudson (3-4) goes to defending state champion Glens Falls (7-0) and Broadalbin-Perth (4-3) plays at Holy Trinity.
The Class A quarterfinal schedule has Scotia-Glenville (4-3) at Troy (6-1), Amsterdam (5-2) at Ballston Spa (5-2) and three-time defending champion Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (4-3) at Averill Park (4-3) Friday, and La Salle (4-3) at Queensbury (7-0) Saturday.
The Class C quarterfinal schedule on Friday has Granville (4-2) at Stillwater (7-0), Greenwich (6-1) at Fonda-Fultonville (6-1) and Tamarac (4-2) at Watervliet (4-2). Voorheesville (5-2) plays at defending champion Cambridge/Salem (6-1) on Saturday.