Michael Kelly/Recorder staff
Head coach Jim Pelneau is shown during a recent preseason practice Broadalbin-Perth football in Broadalbin.
By MICHAEL KELLY
BROADALBIN -- In the toughest moments of the 2013 season, the Broadalbin-Perth Patriots turned to their defense to save themselves.
The unit rarely failed to deliver. Four times in 10 games, the Patriots allowed 12 or fewer points; there was the shutout against archrival Johnstown; B-P kept state finalist Schalmont to a season-low 21 points in Week 4; and, the Patriots bottled up Lansingburgh's Anthony Walker in the playoffs, keeping the tailback to 52 yards on 22 carries against the B-P starters, just a week after Walker had rushed for 370 yards.
And, in the biggest individual moments, the Patriots' stoppers stood tall, like in Week 1 when the B-P grouping made a goal-line stand to preserve a one-point lead against Scotia-Glenville.
This season, the hope is for the Patriots' defense to become a similar monster. First, though, the unit with eight new starters needs to figure out itself.
"It's certainly different this year," said senior Tyler Schmidt, who projects as a starting cornerback. "Being a senior, it's different having to be a leader. I've always had a mentor before telling me what to do on the field. Now, being that leader, it's kind of weird -- I'm not going to lie."
The leaders from 2013 are gone. The Patriots' vaunted defensive line of Phil Hemstreet, Pierre LaPort, Zach Newfrock and Andre Taylor all graduated, while the members of that club's starting secondary of Jake Coveney, Damion Jabot, Luigi Magliocca and Mike Visco have either graduated, are injured or not playing football this fall.
In short, the Patriots' main strength from a year ago is now its biggest question mark.
So far, though, senior Zach Romeyn -- a starting defensive tackle for 2014, who only played offense in 2013 -- said the Patriots are encouraged with how their new-look defense has come along this preseason.
"Right now, it's about getting the sophomores and the juniors that we have to really mold in with us (seniors) so that we can flow and function like we did last year," he said. "Everything just clicked last year and, this year, we're picking it up quick, too."
"Our main thing right now is just getting the base defense in, making sure that everyone knows what they're doing," said Schmidt, adding more complicated elements of the defense will come a bit later.
All that, though, is not to say the Patriots' entire defense is green. Senior linebackers Biagio Bucciferro and Darius Reyes return and are each likely to be all-league performers; Schmidt saw major time for the Patriots in 2013, bouncing between linebacker and cornerback; and, Jabot is slated for a Week 4 return to add a hard-hitting, veteran presence to the secondary.
The place where the losses from last year are the most obvious, head coach Jim Pelneau said, is the defensive line. The B-P front four applied constant pressure to opposing backfields, and was arguably the best such unit in the section; now, the Patriots are making do with a group void of significant varsity experience.
"When you lose four senior starters, and [one] or [two] more that rotated in there ... that's a big transition," Pelneau said.
This year, the Patriots are relying on a combination of Drew Baker, Jeff Derwin Romeyn, Doug Sutter, Rick Wallace and others to become a cohesive unit at the front of the B-P defense.
"And those guys know what they're doing," said Bucciferro. "They saw the seniors last year, and during team camp they showed they can do even better. They put in the work in the weight room and know what to expect. They're going to fight and never give up."
Filling in the other empty spots on the defense could take some time, Pelneau said, but the Patriots have a good idea who will be where when Week 1's game against Cohoes comes around. Seniors Franklin Bailey and George Pickering are fighting over the final linebacker spot; sophomore Preston Taylor will slot in opposite Schmidt; and, junior Connor Pingitore, and seniors Zach Morreale and Andrew Gorzycki will man the safety positions until Jabot is healthy enough to join in with the group.
The Patriots know it will be tough to replicate a 2013 defense that allowed only 11.4 points per game in the regular season.
But what has not changed is the club's expectation that its 2014 season should be at least as successful as last year's campaign.
"We all have the same ultimate goal," Bucciferro said.
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