By ADAM SHINDER
Recorder Sports Staff
After charging back from a 19-point deficit to push the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Spartans to the brink Saturday at Lynch Literacy Academy, the Amsterdam Rugged Rams twice had the chance to punctuate their comeback and take the lead.
First, down three points with eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, the Rams faced a fourth-and-3 from the Burnt Hills 13-yard line, only for Geo Rodriguez's pass intended for Brett Stanavich to fall incomplete. Then, five minutes later, after forcing a Burnt Hills turnover on downs, the Rugged Rams' attempt to drive the length of the field was snuffed out when Mike Danz stepped in front of a Rodriguez pass headed for Luis Laboy and intercepted the ball.
Four plays later, Dan Porter's third and final rushing touchdown of the game sealed the win for the Spartans, who saw the Rugged Rams charge back from a sluggish start only to come up just short in a 32-22 loss that clinched the Section II Class A Northwest Division title for Burnt Hills.
It was the kind of loss that, though he was disappoint the comeback never came to completion, Amsterdam (3-3, 2-1 Northwest) head coach Doug Edick couldn't bring himself to complain about.
"The kids never quit. They never quit and they gave the effort," Edick said. "I just want them to build on that from here on out and never quit. They were great. It was fun. You hate to be on the short end of the stick, but when you give that effort, I can live with it."
After a lackluster performance in last week's 33-14 loss to Class B Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, the Rams seemed as if they could have been headed down the same path again when the Spartans opened up a 19-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter. But, at that moment, an Amsterdam team desperate to disprove what they felt was a popular sentiment that the Spartans would walk into Lynch on Homecoming and blow the Rams out of the water got a galvanizing message on the sideline.
"We were all panicking on the sideline in the first quarter," Rodriguez said. "We were all going crazy on the sideline because everyone said it was gonna be a blowout, and we're all saying, 'It's gonna be a blowout. It's 19-0.' And Coach said, 'We weathered the storm, just calm down, everybody keep your heads, relax, execute every single play and we'll get there.'"
The spark started with a 42-yard touchdown drive set up by a 39-yard Dal Orengo kickoff return and punctuated by Rodriguez's one-yard quarterback sneak for a score. Though Burnt Hills added a touchdown with 52.6 seconds left on the first half on a 26-yard run from Josh Quesada -- who led the Spartans with 103 yards on seven carries -- the Rams had an answer to steal the momentum heading into the half.
On the first play of Amsterdam's ensuing drive, Stanavich -- held to minus-2 yards on his first five carries of the game -- broke free up the middle and sprinted 73 yards for a touchdown. Rodriguez's two-point conversion pass to Isaiah Martin cut the Burnt Hills lead to 25-15 at the half.
"Brett, he's just explosive. You never know when he's going to break one for 40, 50 yards," Rodriguez said. "He just broke it. He's a fast player -- he's like a hyena out there, and nobody can catch him."
Spartans (5-1, 4-0) head coach Matt Shell had spent the week in practice drilling into his team the danger that Stanavich presented, and after Burnt Hills had bottled up the Amsterdam tailback early, it was a jarring blow to see the speedy senior break free with 39 seconds left in the half to give Amsterdam a jolt heading into the locker room.
"We've been telling the kids all week how explosive he is, and we got a taste of it right there," Shell said.
The Rams brought a packed house Lynch Literacy Academy alive late in the third quarter when, on a third-and-9 from the Burnt Hills 32-yard line, Rodriguez rolled right under pressure and -- with the BH-BL defense bearing down on him -- floated a deep pass over the heads of two Spartans' defensive backs and into the arms of Luis Laboy three yards deep in the end zone.
Shell said he could feel the momentum tipping, something he said was very dangerous considering the raucous Homecoming atmosphere at Lynch.
"It's a tough environment to come win a football game," he said. "I don't know if there's a tougher environment -- maybe somewhere in the SEC or in the pros somewhere -- as far as I know in high school, this is about the toughest place you can come to try and win a game."
After forcing a punt, the Rams drove deep into Burnt Hills territory until, with a little more than eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, Amsterdam was faced with a fourth-and-3 from the Spartans' 13. During a break in the action while Burnt Hills' Jack Maher was being tended to for an injury, Edick initially readied to send sophomore kicker Marcus Pritchard on to attempt what would have been a game-tying 30-yard field goal, but then opted to leave his offense on the field for the crucial fourth-down conversion.
"It was hit-or-miss," Edick said. "We have a kicker who can make it, and we talked about it and were ready to go for the field goal, but we decided we had a good play -- we just missed on it."
Rodriguez rolled left and tried to find Stanavich in the flat, but his throw was under duress and fell short of the target as the Spartans took over on downs.
"I wanted the kick, but what are you gonna do?" Stanavich said. "It was just a little bit out of my reach. Can't really go off that, because we should've come out a little bit better."
Burnt Hills then drove deep into Amsterdam territory, only for the Rams to force a turnover on downs. But, on the second play of Amsterdam's ensuing drive, Danz picked off Rodriguez to swing the momentum pendulum the Spartans' way once again.
After a 15-yard run by Quesada converted a key third down, Porter's seven-yard touchdown run sealed the game -- punctuated moments by Ben Roberts' recovery of Ryan McDonnell's short pooch kickoff that allowed the Spartans to kneel on the ball and run out the clock.
"It's a great game. A great high school football game against a great Burnt Hills team," Edick said. "They have 30 seniors, they have an experienced line and our kids went all out."
From the time the Spartans started running out the clock through Edick's post-game huddle with his team, the message to the Rams was consistent, "We'll see these guys again." That matchup would have to come in the Section II Class A Super Bowl, giving the Rams a simple road map for the rest of the season: Close out the regular season by beating South Glens Falls next week, then win two playoff games -- likely against Averill Park and Troy -- to get another shot at the Spartans.
"We've got to go through Averill Park again and we've got to go through Troy -- and they beat Burnt Hills," Stanavich said. "We're gonna have to go through a couple good teams -- and we can't forget about South Glens Falls. It'll be a good couple of weeks."