By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
With 52.6 seconds remaining in the first half of their Week 6 game against Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, the Amsterdam Rugged Rams' season was hanging by a thread.
After falling into an early 19-point hole, the Rams clawed a touchdown back in the second quarter, only for Burnt Hills' Josh Quesada to score a 26-yard touchdown on a fourth down late in the half to give the Spartans a 25-7 lead.
Already on the heels of a disheartening 33-14 loss to Class B Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk on Senior Night at Lynch Literacy Academy eight days earlier and even though the Rams were guaranteed a home playoff game regardless of the result against BH-BL, Amsterdam's season was in desperate need of a spark.
Brett Stanavich provided it.
The electric senior tailback, held to minus-2 yards on his first five carries of the game, found a hole up the middle and didn't stop running for 73 yards until he found his way into the end zone to cut the Burnt Hills advantage to 25-15 at the half.
From that point on, the season was ignited.
"We thought they were gonna crush us when we got down 19-0," said Amsterdam quarterback Geo Rodriguez. "We had to dig deep and find the ability to come back."
The Rams didn't win that game, rallying before dropping a 32-22 decision, but to a man they believe that Stanavich's long touchdown run and the defensive revival that followed after halftime were the catalyst for the surge that has Amsterdam set for a rematch with Burnt Hills tonight in the Section II Class A Super Bowl at Shenendehowa High School.
"We woke up. It was our homecoming, and we weren't going to be embarrassed like that," said senior defensive end and tight end Isiah Martin. "We weren't going to roll over just because they're Burnt Hills. We're here to fight, we're here to play."
Head coach Doug Edick saw the change in his team instantly. From the postgame huddle after the loss to Burnt Hills, he was already preaching to his team that they'd get a second chance at the Spartans.
From the way his team has played ever since, Edick's premonition was spot on. The Rams responded the next week by closing the regular season with a 62-12 pasting of South Glens Falls, then opened the playoffs by avenging a Week 1 loss to Averill Park with a 58-14 rout before overcoming an early 14-point hole last week to soar to a 40-21 semifinal win on the road against Troy.
"The way we played that second half (against Burnt Hills), we never gave up and we battled," Edick said. "We had a chance to tie the game or go in front and we never quit. We kept improving, and after that it's been great."
While the Rams have improved their consistency on offense -- especially as the offensive line has jelled throughout the year -- the biggest change has been on the defensive end. Though there were few doubts about Amsterdam's bevy of playmakers on offense, up until halftime of the Burnt Hills game, the Rugged Rams defense had been, at best, a work in progress.
"After that game, everyone woke up, and you can see it," said junior fullback and safety Hector Diaz. "Everyone's rushing to the ball on defense, everyone's making blocks, everyone's making plays. It's because we want to get back to Burnt Hills."
Edick said it was crucial that, even after the loss to Burnt Hills, the Rams maintained their composure heading into the playoffs.
"We had our struggles throughout the year, but we talked after we lost the Burnt Hills game about how we were still OK in the league," he said. "We were still 2-1 in the league, so we knew what seed we were gonna get and we kept moving on."
Once the ball started rolling downhill, it hasn't stopped. Just ask the guy who started the surge.
"Our momentum's been carrying on. Going into the playoffs, I knew it would be a whole different season," Stanavich said. "We needed to step it up a few gears heading into the playoffs, and that's what we've done. Hopefully, our momentum from Averill Park and Troy will carry us through this game."