By MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — With more than half of Saturday’s fourth quarter still to play, Broadalbin-Perth Patriots senior lineman Pierre LaPort slowly approached teammate Phil Hemstreet on the B-P sideline.
With the action continuing on the field at Brent T. Steuerwald Stadium during the Section II Class B Super Bowl without the two B-P defensive stars, LaPort reached out his gloved hand to Hemstreet, who shook it. There was no verbal give-and-take, but the solemnity of the exchange said everything.
It was over.
The Schalmont Sabres romped to their fourth sectional title in five years, topping the Patriots, 54-7. Schalmont (10-0) ran off the game’s first 35 points, as B-P (8-2) did not score until midway through the third quarter on Andre Taylor’s 3-yard touchdown run.
“We lost to a better football team tonight,” B-P head coach Jim Pelneau said.
The Patriots had played the Sabres tight in a Week 4 meeting; Schalmont pulled away late in the fourth quarter of that matchup for a 21-3 victory, but the Sabres needed no heroics in Saturday’s Super Bowl. Nick Gallo, Schalmont’s quarterback, said the Sabres had learned the lessons from their previous meeting with B-P — and they put them to use at the most opportune time.
“We knew what they were going to do,” he said. “We knew everything that they were, how they played, who they were … and I really think that helped us,” said Gallo, who was brilliant on offense — one rushing touchdown, and a 9-of-9 showing in the passing game for 147 yards — and intercepted a pass on defense.
The Sabres had moved Gallo to quarterback after the two teams had met earlier this season. Schalmont head coach Joe Whipple said Gallo’s influence was all over Saturday’s game.
“It makes a difference when you’ve got a kid that can throw and run — a big, big difference — and I think that was the difference in tonight’s game,” Whipple said.
B-P quarterback Zach Morreale saw it a little differently. He knew his team had let the Sabres off the hook early in the game with miscues that the Patriots could not overcome.
“We just kept making mistake after mistake,” he said. “That was a great football team we were going against … but, I don’t know, we made stupid mistakes and they killed us in the end.”
“Missed assignments, missed alignments, and just not playing how we play,” LaPort said of Saturday’s early action.
B-P’s opening two drives ended with some of those mistakes. After a three-and-out drive to start the game forced B-P to punt from its 28-yard line, Patriots punter Mike Visco mishit his kick and the Sabres took over on B-P’s 35-yard line.
Taylor recovered a fumble at the B-P 5-yard line to end the Sabres’ drive — but another special-teams mishap was on the horizon for B-P. Forced to attempt to punt from their own end zone, the Patriots could not protect Visco long enough for him to get the punt off, forcing the senior to run back to the 7-yard line where the Sabres tackled him and took over possession.
The Patriots defense almost made up for the second miscue. With Schalmont facing a fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, Visco got a hand on a rushing Gallo in the backfield, but the Sabre broke through the Patriot’s grasp. Jake Coveney and Darius Reyes also had a chance to tackle Gallo, but the Schalmont quarterback shot through their respective arms for the game’s first touchdown.
Then, the floodgates opened. While the Patriots only gained 20 yards of total offense in the first half, the Sabres raced to a 28-0 lead by halftime.
“They physically wore us out,” Pelneau said.
The Patriots never could muster up a serious challenge in the second half, as Gallo and Devon Willis — 122 rushing yards, four touchdowns — led the Sabres to the title. Schalmont began removing its starters from the game with more than eight minutes to play and B-P soon followed the Sabres’ lead.
Hemstreet said those final several minutes were the roughest. Sitting in the locker room a half hour after the game and still in his pads and jersey, the senior described the toughest part of the experience.
“Watching that clock click down to zero and knowing I’m not going to be playing for B-P anymore,” said Hemstreet, as he looked at his Patriots helmet on a bench in front of him.
It was a rough way to end an otherwise charmed season for the Patriots. In 2013, B-P won its first playoff game since 2007 and made its way to its first sectional Super Bowl since 1988.
Leading the way for B-P was its senior class, a group of players that lifted the Patriots from the bottom of the Section II Class B West Division during their junior and senior seasons. Senior lineman Zach Newfrock — one of the team’s four seniors captains; LaPort, Luigi Magliocca and Visco were the others — said he spent his final minutes on the B-P sideline telling his fellow seniors to not forget what they had accomplished this season.
“The biggest thing I was telling people was that we’d laid the foundation, and that’s an accomplishment in itself,” said Newfrock. “Even though we’re not going on to the next round, it’s been 25 years since we’d been [to the Super Bowl] and our senior group led us here.
“I think we shocked the section with getting here,” he continued. “And, B-P football is coming back to be here again.”
Just not with the seniors that led the program to Saturday’s big game. After so many years playing football together, LaPort said it was tough to know Saturday was the end for his senior class of Patriots. LaPort sought out most of those seniors during the game’s final minutes for a hug or a handshake.
“I was just telling them that I love them no matter what, that it’s been a hell of a season, and thank you for everything from Little Patriots to now,” he said.
Even if Saturday’s result did not go the Patriots’ way, Pelneau said the impact of the team’s seniors could not be overstated. In his third year at the helm of the Patriots, Pelneau credited his 2013 seniors as the ones that had shaped what his program is going to become in future years.
“They got us to a new level, to a new culture,” he said. “They changed the way football is played at B-P.”