Colonie tailback Jason Gayle (40) tries to cut past a Niskayuna defender during last Friday’s game.
In a game that featured 95 points and nearly 800 yards of total offense, it was a defensive play that determined the outcome of last Friday’s Niskayuna-Colonie football game.
Alex Helenek’s 40-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter helped Niskayuna pull away for a 56-39 victory over Colonie.
Up to that point, neither defense had anything to hang their hats on. But once Helenek stepped in front of Colonie quarterback Steve Wutzer’s pass and ran into the end zone, Niskayuna (1-2) grabbed a 49-31 lead and never looked back.
“That set the distance. That was huge,” said Niskayuna coach John Furey.
“They’re a good defen-sive team,” said Colonie coach Mike Ambrosio. “They stayed in it, and we made a couple of mistakes that they took advantage of.”
The offenses set the tone early in the first quarter. Wutzer completed an 87-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Crago on Colonie’s first play from scrimmage to give the home team a 7-0 lead, but Niskayuna running back Chris Henry responded with a 59-yard scoring run a short time later. Helenek added the extra point to tie the game at 7, and only three minutes had elapsed.
Both teams moved the ball at will throughout the remaining 21 minutes of the first half. Niskayuna took its first lead on Henry’s 15-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter only to see Colonie regain the advantage on Jason Gayle’s 1-yard touchdown plunge and two-point conversion run. The lead changed hands twice in the second quarter before Henry capped Niskayuna’s final drive of the first half with a 2-yard touchdown run that put the Silver Warriors ahead 28-23.
Niskayuna lost Henry’s services early in the third quarter when he injured his right ankle on a short run. The senior tailback had rushed for 110 yards and three touchdowns up to that point.
The Silver Warriors didn’t miss a beat, though. Nate Malerk stepped in for Henry and gained 67 yards on nine carries and scored a pair of touchdowns – the first one coming late in the third quarter with Niskayuna clinging to a 34-31 lead. The Silver Warriors then faked the extra point kick and got a two-point conversion pass from holder Tyler Pantalone to Randy Baisy to increase their lead to 42-31.
Colonie (0-3) tried to cut into the deficit to start the fourth quarter, but Helenek made sure that it didn’t happen by scoring off his interception. Niskayuna forced two more Colonie turnovers in the fourth quarter to seal its victory.
“Those second half turnovers were huge for us,” said Furey.
Wutzer had a strong performance for Colonie, despite the two late turnovers. The senior quarterback completed 17 of his 28 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns, both of which went to Crago.
Colonie’s ground game was also strong as Devon Edwards, Jason Gayle and Dave Monin each ran for touchdowns. Edwards, a sophomore, finished with a team-high 75 yards on seven carries, while Gayle accounted for 58 yards on 12 carries.
“A lot of kids contributed, and they did some nice things,” said Ambrosio.
Niskayuna meets Saratoga Springs Friday, while Colonie hosts LaSalle in a must-win for the Garnet Raiders.
Colonie needs to win its final two Liberty Division games in order to have a shot at making the Section II Class AA playoffs with no worse than a fourth-place finish.
“It’s going to be tough [to make the playoffs], but we’re not mathematically out of it yet,” said Ambrosio.