By MICHAEL KELLY
BROADALBIN -- No Week 4 football game in Section II Class B has more riding on it than Friday night's tilt at Patriot Field.
That's exactly the level of importance the Broadalbin-Perth Patriots wanted their game with the Schalmont Sabres to have when the 2013 schedule was unveiled earlier this year.
"We looked at the schedule when it came out and we knew that Week 4 was going to be one hell of a week," says B-P senior Luigi Magliocca. "And it's turned out to be that kind of week."
The stakes are simple in the battle of unbeatens: The winner of Friday's 7 p.m. contest takes sole control of the West Division, and grabs the inside track to snatching the division's top seed for sectionals.
From there, though, things get a bit hazy. Both B-P (3-0, 3-0) and Schalmont (3-0, 3-0) come into the contest with sparkling resumes -- but that was the case, too, a year ago, when the Patriots visited Schalmont for a winner-takes-first-place game and were systematically destroyed, 51-7.
B-P head coach Jim Pelneau says his team has not spent much time dwelling on last year's defeat. More than 20 of this year's Patriots were on the field for that loss, but the coach says he has not drawn from that game to try to motivate his club.
"We can't do anything about the past, we can't do anything about the future -- but we can focus on the present," says Pelneau. "If we look back and try to make comparisons with last year's game, we're going to get lost in it, so we haven't really talked about it at all."
Instead, Pelneau and his counterpart at Schalmont, head coach Joe Whipple, have spent most of their week focusing on Friday night's best matchup, the B-P defense against the Schalmont offense. In three games, the Patriots' starting defense has allowed 12 points, while the Sabres' offense has generated 124 points.
"They've got speed everywhere and they want to run as many plays as possible," Pelneau says of Schalmont's no-huddle attack.
"They get off the ball fast and they're physical up front," Whipple counters of the B-P defense. "They cause a lot of penetration and that's an offensive coordinator's worst nightmare."
So, something's got to give at Patriot Field between the Sabres' no-huddle spread offense -- "We're getting the ball off at about nine seconds each play," Whipple says -- and the Patriots' defense, which is anchored by its four backfield-crashing senior linemen: Phil Hemstreet, Pierre LaPort, Zach Newfrock and Andre Taylor.
Of course, Schalmont has perhaps the best weapon in Section II to send against an overzealous defensive front in the form of halfback Devon Willis. The senior has been limited this season because of an early-season illness and a sprained ankle suffered in Week 2 -- Willis missed all of Week 3's game -- but Whipple says his star is set for Friday.
"He is definitely playing Friday, yes," says Whipple. "He has no swelling and he looks good."
Willis tormented B-P a year ago, rushing for 173 yards and five touchdowns. B-P's Taylor says the Patriots left the game a year ago stunned at Willis' ability.
"Last year, we did not expect his athleticism," says Taylor. "We're going to have to make them give the ball to someone else."
Above all else, though, the B-P defense needs to just keep doing what has worked for it during the team's 3-0 start.
"We're going to play football like our defense knows how to," says Hemstreet. "If we really stick together and play to our strengths, we're going to be fine."
"We just need to play our defense and trust what Coach calls," says LaPort. "They're a great team, they're obviously going to score points. We just need to keep our heads up when they do, and trust that our offense will do the exact same thing and get any points we give up back for us."
"They're going to get their first down and they're going to punch it in because they're a great football team," says Magliocca. "But so are we."
While B-P has mostly relied on the rushing attack of Magliocca and Darius Reyes to chew up yardage and score points in the first few weeks, it is likely that the Patriots will need junior quarterback Zach Morreale to step up and make a few plays with his arm tonight. Set to make his fourth varsity start, an even-keeled Morreale says he is not too worked up about Friday night's bright lights.
"I'm not treating it like it's any different. Every game is the same to me," he says. "I'm going to play my hardest and make as few mistakes as possible."
Before the 2013 season began, the Patriots spoke openly about playing deep into the Section II playoffs this fall. After a flawless start, Friday night's contest gives B-P the chance to show it belongs in the Section II Class B Super Bowl conversation.
"If you want to be the best, you have to go take down the best," says Magliocca. "We've got that opportunity Friday night."