LATHAM – Two high-powered offensive Section 2 Class AA football teams waged a defensive battle Friday, Sept. 21.
Unexpected? Yes. Unusual? Not really, given the quality of Shaker’s and Shenendehowa’s defenses.
In the end, Shaker’s defense made more key defensive plays than Shen, which allowed the Blue Bison (4-0) to escape with a 14-7 victory over the previously unbeaten Plainsmen (3-1).
Shaker intercepted Shen quarterback Brendan Belott three times and forced the senior to all but abandon his running game. Belott entered the game with 70 rushing yards on 13 carries, but he called his own number only four times because Shaker’s edge rushers prevented him from rolling out of the pocket.
“Due to Shaker’s pass rush and their speed, he really didn’t have the chance to get outside,” said Shen head coach Brian Clawson.
Shen’s defense didn’t force Shaker turnovers, save for a fumble recovery early in the first quarter. Instead, the Plainsmen employed a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that ended several Blue Bison drives without a point allowed.
“They made some good plays on defense,” said Shaker coach Greg Sheeler.
Hampering matters for Shaker was tailback Jovani Wiggs suffering a severe leg injury late in the third quarter. The sophomore had made several impressive runs on the outer edge, including a 54-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. But on a run that was stopped for a loss, Wiggs fell awkardly and laid on the ground for several minutes while being attended to by medical staff. He was eventually carted off the field wearing an air cast on his right leg.
“That’s two weeks in a row where we’ve lost some key guys to injuries. This time, it was Jovani,” said Sheeler.
After being stymied most of the night, Belott came up with a key play early in the fourth quarter. With a gusty wind at his back, Belott unloaded a 36-yard pass that Dyvante Terrelonge leaped and caught at Shaker’s 3-yard line while being double covered. Two plays later, Kyle Gregor punched the ball into the end zone to help Shen tie the score at 7-7.
“Dyvante is a big time performer, and that’s something we’ve seen all summer at preseason camps,” said Clawson. “In a critical situation, we knew we could go to him.”
Shaker regrouped in a hurry. Logan Souza returned the ensuing kickoff to Shaker’s 45-yard line and later turned a screen pass by McHugh into a 20-yard gain to Shen’s 20-yard line. Three plays later, Ravion Burt bulldozed his way for a 12-yard gain that gave the Blue Bison a first-and-goal at Shen’s 1-yard line.
This was slightly familiar territory for both teams. In the second quarter, Shaker got to Shen’s 1-yard line, but the Plainsmen stuffed the Blue Bison’s fourth-and-goal play to prevent Shaker from taking a two touchdown lead.
“That was tough for us not to finish that time,” said Sheeler.
It took Shaker two attempts from the 1-yard line to get the ball into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. McHugh kept it himself both times, and he needed to stretch his arm over the goal line on the second try in order for the referees to signal a touchdown. Jack Leto’s extra point put the Blue Bison ahead 14-7 with 3:14 left in regulation.
Shen had one more chance to make something happen on offense, but Shaker’s defense rose to the challenge. After Belott threw three straight incompletions, the Blue Bison’s pass rush flushed Belott out of the pocket. Belott gained five yards before being forced out of bounds, giving Shaker the ball back on downs.
“He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the area, and he made some big plays to keep drives going,” Sheeler said of Belott, who completed 14 of 28 passes for 201 yards. “But every time he did that, our defense responded.”
Wiggs gained 111 yards on 10 carries before suffering his leg injury. Souza picked up 39 rushing yards and another 37 receiving yards, and Burt added 37 all-purpose yards for Shaker.
For a photo gallery from Friday’s game, click here.