By MICHAEL KELLY
BROADALBIN -- The first game of the 2014 high school football season likely comes with the greatest individual challenge of the Broadalbin-Perth Patriots' regular season.
To come out of Friday's season-opening contest at Patriot Field with a victory, head coach Jim Pelneau's squad will need to limit Cohoes senior running back Shelton Alston, the Tigers' 6-foot-3, 200-pound workhorse.
At Wednesday's practice, the B-P head coach said nothing else will matter Friday night if his club cannot contain the Cohoes star.
"Bottom line," said Pelneau, "we've got to tackle that kid."
"He's a great athlete and a great football player," said B-P senior linebacker Biagio Bucciferro. "So, we want to prove we're a great defense."
When the Patriots and Tigers last met, B-P won the contest despite Alston's big day. Playing in the 2013 Section II Class B semifinals, the Patriots emerged with a 41-32 victory, and Alston collected 124 yards on 25 carries while scoring three touchdowns.
That day, a rainy Saturday, the Patriots were able to overcome Alston's effort because of an explosive day from their offense. But B-P knows it cannot count on a monster scoring output in Week 1, so the club's focus this week has been making sure it is ready to tackle Cohoes' top weapon.
"We've been working on tackling -- gang-tackling," said Bucciferro, who spent his offseason recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
"If one of us gets [to Alston]," continued Bucciferro, "we all have to get there."
That emphasis is extra important this week, as B-P came out of its weekend scrimmage less than thrilled with its ability to tackle in the open field, a strength of last year's squad.
"We have to do a better job of tackling with the first guy in," Pelneau said.
While Alston will provide a challenge for the Patriots, Cohoes head coach James Ducharme said his squad is figuring out ways to surround its star rusher. Electric wide receiver Brandon LaForest is back for the Tigers, but the squad's offensive line is brand new and senior quarterback Anthony Dumesnil shifts to the position from wide receiver.
"Anytime you play Week 1, you have a ton of questions you have to answer," Ducharme said.
The top question for Cohoes, he said, will be seeing how the squad's youngsters react to the bright Friday night lights at Patriot Field. Meanwhile, the thing Ducharme is confident in is that his seniors will be ready to take on the Patriots after last season's postseason elimination. The coach said he wants his club to mainly concern itself with forging its own identity for 2014, but said he had not hesitated to remind his returning players about one thing in particular when it comes to the Patriots.
"The last time you stepped on the field was against this team -- and you lost," Ducharme said has been the message delivered to his team throughout this week's practices to help motivate the squad.
Pelneau said he has not brought up last year's result too much with his squad. The chance to win a non-league game before West Division play begins next week for the squad is all that matters, he said.
"We want to come out with the win," he said. "That's the most important thing."
The Patriots' divisional games the next two weeks -- against Glens Falls and at Schuylerville -- are likely the most important regular season games of the year for B-P, as they come against top foes in the club's division.
But Bucciferro said the Patriots know that a Week 1 victory will help the squad keep its momentum from the preseason. Earlier in the Patriots' training camp, Bucciferro had said that the squad had circled every game on its 2014 schedule, but the senior co-captain amended that statement a bit at Wednesday's practice.
"This one's got a nice little red mark on it, too" he said.
Contact MICHAEL KELLY at firstname.lastname@example.org