HALFMOON — The big play is a big concern of the Shenendehowa football team heading into Saturday's Class AA state semifinal game with New Rochelle at Middletown High School.
New Rochelle put a couple of them together late in the fourth quarter to beat Utica Proctor last weekend 21-7 and set up Saturday's 6 p.m. showdown with the Plainsmen, with the game's winner heading to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse to play for a state championship.
"The big play creates momentum for them," Shenendehowa defensive end Patrick McCane said earlier this week after a practice at Sportsplex of Halfmoon. "What we need to do is shut down the big play."
Proctor effectively did that until Jessie Parsons scored touchdowns 79 seconds apart to first beak a 7-7 tie and later extend the lead in New Rochelle's regional victory. Parsons scored all three touchdowns for the Huguenots (Section I, 11-0) and ran for 156 yards on 12 carries.
"They made three game-changing plays," Shenendehowa head coach Brian Clawson said.
Josh Szwarcberg had one of those early in Shenendehowa's regional game when the senior safety pounced on a Pine Bush fumble. The Plainsmen (10-1) proceeded to score on six straight possessions in a 41-7 win that sent them to the state semifinals for the first time since 2014.
"What we've told the kids is that this is an amazing opportunity," Clawson said. "If we practice well and play well, I don't see why we won't have a shot at it."
New Rochelle is No. 2 in the state and Shenendehowa is No. 9, with the Plainsmen's rank matching its win streak since a 28-14 loss to Shaker. All of those wins have been by double figures, as have all 11 of New Rochelle's victories.
"They'll be the best team we've faced all year," Clawson said. "They're in the final four. It should be that way."
New Rochelle pulled away from Proctor when Parsons raced 51 yards to the end zone with 3:29 left, Jasiah Nichols recorded a strip-sack to get the ball back in the Huguenots' hands, and Parsons scored again on a 34-yard run.
Aside from Parsons' production, New Rochelle managed 13 yards of offense and did not complete a pass.
"They rely on explosive plays," McCane said. "They want that 50-yard touchdown."
Parsons set a New Rochelle record with 327 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns — three on runs of 77, 60 and 50 yards — when New Rochelle beat Carmel 42-14 for its fifth consecutive Section I championship.
"I talked to the John Jay coach, and he said [Parsons] is the fastest player he has coached against," Clawson said. "On offense, they have other good skill players. They are fast on defense and fly to the ball. They're pretty good tacklers. They are a complete team with no holes."
New Rochelle defeated Shaker 27-19 in last year's semifinal round before a 21-14 loss to Aquinas denied the Huguenots a third state championship.
Shenendehowa's last state tournament appearance in 2014 included a 27-20 regional win over John Jay and a 20-19 overtime loss to Newburgh Free Academy in the semifinals.
Billy Beach and Shenendehowa's offensive line played a huge role in the Plainsmen getting back to this stage. Beach ran for 188 yards and four touchdowns on 21 carries against Pine Bush and the senior also caught a scoring pass from Brody Vincenzi.
"We expect our offense to put up points," Szwarcberg said.
Saturday's game will be a rematch from the 2003 state Class AA semifinal in Kingston when Ray Rice and Fred Campbell combined to halt Shenendehowa quarterback Jason Downey on a late fourth-and-goal from the 2 as New Rochelle held on for a 14-7 win. The year before, Shenendehowa had made the second of its two state championship appearances and lost to Webster Schroeder 28-7.
Rice, who played in the NFL, is currently a volunteer assistant coach at New Rochelle.
Longtime New Rochelle head coach Lou DiRienzo did not coach in the Proctor game and reportedly won't coach vs. Shenendehowa, either. Just days before the Proctor game, he was "reassigned from his teaching and coaching responsibilities" by the New Rochelle administration, and assistant coaches Greg Foster, Ray Rhett and Rich Tassello led the team.
Saturday's other Class AA semifinal will see McQuaid (Section V, 11-0) at Cicero-North Syracuse (Section III, 8-3). The state championship game will be Sunday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Schuylerville (10-1) will take on Port Jervis (Section IX, 9-2) in a Class B state semifinal Saturday at 3 p.m. at Middletown High School.
Schuylerville's last semifinal appearance in 2015 resulted in a 35-0 win over Westlake, and the Black Horses fell the following week to Cazenovia 22-19 when a late drive fizzled out.
Schuylerville beat Ogdensburg Free Academy in regional play 28-8 behind Sam McGarrahan's three touchdowns, and Port Jervis advanced with a 20-14 win over Ardsley.
Saturday's other Class B state semifinal will pit Western New York Maritime/Health Science (Section VI, 10-1) against Chenango Forks (Section IV, 11-0) at C-NS. The championship game is Sunday, Dec. 1, at noon at the Carrier Dome.