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Diary of a Mad Sportswriter: The defense can't rest prior to victory

Diary of a Mad Sportswriter

Stan Hudy is a sportswriter for The Saratogian and Community News. He covers high school and youth sports in the Saratoga County area as well as writing a weekly book review on sports books. He's not just a "stick and ball" sportswriter, he's willing to take on any sport as well as any subject.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The defense can't rest prior to victory

Saratoga County football teams will have to stop first, score second

In tonight’s Section II playoff contests, there is no tomorrow, there is no next week with a crossover contest. Win and you are in the Section II Super Bowl and a loss ends your fall season and begins the countdown to the winter session.

All three Saratoga County teams in action tonight, Shenendehowa at LaSalle, Ballston Spa at Guilderland and Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake hosting Amsterdam will have to rely on its own defense first and foremost.

Shenendehowa (7-1) at LaSalle Institute (7-1), 7 p.m.

This is the fourth time in five years that Shenendehowa and LaSalle have faced off in the Class AA playoffs. The Cadets dropped the Plainsmen in the semifinal in 2005, Shen won in 2004 and 2003. This year the Plainsmen secondary will have its hands full tonight against the No. 13 ranked Cadets on the road and the last thing Shenendehowa coach Brent Steuerwald wants to get into is a shootout.

“We know we are capable of scoring points, we’ve been pretty consistent all year long,” Steuerwald said. “The question is can we stop their offense. The longer we control the ball, the better chance we have of winning the game.”

The Plainsmen defensive unit will have to try to find a way to pressure LaSalle quarterback Jared Henkel. The senior signal caller has thrown for more than 1,300 yards and 12 touchdowns this year and only been picked off five times.

“He’s a two-year leader and can scramble like any quarterback,” Steuerwald said. “He’s a gifted passer that can identify the open receiver and throw a catchable ball to them and not the defense.”

His favorite targets include senior Josh Brown with eight touchdowns and Brian Beaury with six. If that’s not working, he simply hands off to junior running back, Marquis Terrell, who has rushed for more than 1,200-yards and 22 touchdowns this season.

Shenendehowa’s offense excels when it can create long, sustained offensive drives, utilizing the punishing runs of senior Jason Bedard, combined with the breakaway speed from senior D.J. Evans and sophomore Suhayb Banks.

“I certainly hope they don’t blow us away like CBA and we may not be able to do that to them either,” Steuerwald said. “My educated guess is that the game will be decided in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a matter of perseverance and personal mistakes,” Steuerwald said. “Turnovers, how many fumbles, picks, fourth downs and out on long drives and critical downs and distances not converted by either team.”

Ballston Spa (7-1) at Guilderland (7-1), 7 p.m.

The Scotties, ranked No. 23 in the latest New York State Sportswriters Poll, handed the Dutchmen their only loss and travel to Guilderland, currently ranked No. 16.

“We feel like the little brother, sandwiched between Saratoga and Shenendehowa,” Ballston Spa coach John Bowen said. “We’ve lived in anonymity until we got into the New York State polls and we’re ranked 23rd. We have the same record as Guilderland and who handed them their only loss, we did.”

While the Scotties may be playing for respect, the Dutchemen are playing for revenge.

“We know we have to do our best against (Andrew) Smith,” Bowen said. “We can’t stop him, but we have to slow him down. If we let (Paul) Booker run North and South we are in for a long night.”

Guilderland quarterback, 6-foot-2 210 pound senior Andrew Smith is a dual threat. He has thrown for more than 300 yards and two touchdowns while running for more than 600 yards and 12 scores. Senior running back, 6-foor-4 205 pound Paul Booker has 13 touchdowns with more than 700-yards gained on the ground.

“I feel we tackled well in the first half, but not in the second half,” Bowen said about the Scotties 32-27 win in week five. “We can’t put ourselves in a situation where we are missing tackles. The first guy has to get there, contain, wrap up and wait for the rally to get there.”

Ballston Spa will answer with its four horsemen, senior backs Steve Duncan, Eric Marciano and Dan Decker. Sophomore Mark Seager will have the duty of calling the audible at the line of scrimmage based on what the Dutchmen show him.

Amsterdam (7-1) at Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (7-1), 7 p.m.

The No. 10 Spartans will look to correct its mistakes from week two when they fell to the No. 9 Rams on the road, but don’t call it a grudge match.

“They’re not motivated by revenge,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said. “I don’t talk to them about revenge, it’s not what sports is all bout, its about competition and giving it all you got.”

Burnt Hills had only one successful scoring drive in nine attempts on the Amsterdam turf and failed to convert four down attempts on three occasions. On the defensive side of the ball, the Spartans were unable to wrap up the Rams running backs successfully.

“Good teams have a tendency to do that to you,” Shell said. “If you make mistakes, they snowball on you. That’s kind of how things came out.”

The loss is in the distant memory for the Burnt Hills squad.

“Our defense has really improved throughout the season,” Shell said. “We have a young defense, and they have improved game by game. If we play well, we can do great things and we’ll be in it.”

Offensively, look for senior quarterback Paul Layton to again be the center of attention. With protection from his offensive line, he will have his options open to either run the ball himself, run the option of find one of his receivers down field.
With a victory, the Spartans would be making history after playing in their first-ever Super Bowl last year.

“We’ve played in some big games since week two,” Shell said. “We played Bishop Maginn for the number one seed at Maginn and went to Lansingburgh and won there. When you go on the road and win, it does a lot for your character.”

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