Defensive end Nico Orengo reads the play during football practice Wednesday at Amsterdam High School. (Adam Shinder/Recorder staff)
By ADAM SHINDER
TOWN OF AMSTERDAM — Nico Orengo never would have hoped for Jesse Kellogg to get injured, but he’ll be eternally grateful for the opportunity it opened up for him.
When the Amsterdam Rugged Rams opened their 2015 football season at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse against Cazenovia, Orengo — then a sophomore — wasn’t in the starting lineup. That was the last time that’s been the case. Kellogg, then a junior, entered the 2015 season as the starting center with Orengo as his backup, but Kellogg suffered a wrist injury against Cazenovia, Orengo stepped in to take over the job as has been the anchor of Amsterdam’s offensive line ever since.
“I’m grateful for that chance,” Orengo said. “No offense to Jesse, because I love Jesse, but that injury was probably the most blessed thing in my life.”
Listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Orengo doesn’t have brute size or strength, but he’s been the model of consistency. His play at center helped the Rams to the 2015 Section II Class A championship, and he’s played every snap that the first-team offense has been out on the field since taking over the starting role.
“He’s been with us three years. He’s done a tremendous job,” Amsterdam coach Doug Edick said. “He’s basically started every game since his sophomore year, and I don’t think he’s missed a game.”
Tonight, Orengo will play what, if things go the way the Rams are hoping over the next several weeks, will be his final home game at Lynch Literacy Academy as Amsterdam (3-3) hosts Class B power Schuylerville in preparation for next week’s all-or-nothing showdown at South Glens Falls that should determine if the Rams will reach the Class A playoffs.
The bittersweet nature of Senior Night isn’t lost on Orengo, but he’s trying to keep that out of his thought process.
“It’s a sad moment. I just want to win,” he said. “I don’t want to think about the sadness of this game for me.”
Orengo has long been one of the Rams’ emotional and vocal leaders, and prior to this season he was named one of the team’s captains alongside Louis Fedullo and injured quarterback Trey Holloway.
The senior center, who also became a starter at defensive end this year, is someone Edick said the Rams will miss for his presence on and off the field.
“He’s been the focal point for the offensive line,” Edick said. “He’s been a good leader. He’ll definitely be missed next year.”
Before the Rams say goodbye to Orengo and his fellow seniors, the team has some business to attend to. Tonight’s game won’t have any effect on the Class A standings, but it is a chance for Amsterdam to improve following Saturday’s 50-7 loss to Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake while getting on the right track for the team’s Oct. 20 showdown with South Glens Falls.
So far, the team has responded to Edick’s challenge for the remainder of the season.
“We’ve had two very good days of practice,” he said. “I think the kids have bought into that we’re just gonna work and finish it out, go as hard as we can for the next four weeks and see what happens.”
“It was an eye-opener,” Edick said of the loss to Burnt Hills. “The frustrating part is you go toe-to-toe with Averill Park, and then they end up beating Queensbury. You know you can be in the mix in the top four teams and make some noise. We’ve got to be in that mindset playing a very good Schuylerville team to be up to that challenge, and then move on because it’s going to be all or nothing against South High the following week.”
In Schuylerville (5-1), Amsterdam faces a team that runs a nearly identical flexbone option offense to the one the Rams saw two weeks ago in their 20-15 loss to Averill Park. The Black Horses ran through their competition in the first five weeks of the season before suffering a 27-14 loss to defending state champion Glens Falls last week, and are still ranked ninth in the state in Class B.
Fullback Derek Willson has rushed for 572 yards and seven touchdowns as the focal point of Schuylerville’s running game, while Paul Harshbarger has scored eight total touchdowns and leads the Black Horses’ strong stable of slotbacks that provide outside options for quarterback Stratton Sherman — who is a threat with both his arms and his legs.
“We’ve prepared for it, and we’ve played pretty well against that offense,” Edick said. “I know Schuylerville and Averill Park are different teams, but they’re both very good and they are similar offenses.”
Defensively, Schuylerville has surrendered just 90 points through six games and has held four of its opponents to 14 points or fewer. Senior linebacker Orion Anderson, a two-time state wrestling champion, is just 5-foot-3 and 140 pounds but has been an impact playmaker on the defensive side after rejoining the football program for his final year of high school.
The Black Horses won’t be an easy puzzle for the Rams to solve, but with next week’s game looming large, Edick would much rather see a team that will challenge the Rams, rather than an easier opponent that might cause the team to stagnate and rest on its laurels.
“It puts us in a position where we have to perform and get better against a good team,” Edick said. “Because face it, if we beat South High and we’re in the top four teams, we’re gonna play a great team in the playoffs.”
“This team is very tough,” Orengo said. “This is gonna prepare us for Burnt Hills, Averill Park and Queensbury.”