Shenendehowa running back Tony Fusco tries to dodge a Christian Brothers Academy defender while being hit from behind by another during an Oct. 8 game in Clifton Park.
During a pre-game ceremony honoring his long career, Shenendehowa football coach Brent Steuerwald concluded his speech by saying, "Let's go play some football."
Steuerwald's players did more than that. They played inspired football.
Tailback Tony Fusco rushed for three first-half touchdowns, and Shen's defense recorded its fifth shutout in six games as the Plainsmen defeated Christian Brothers Academy 42-0 in Saturday's Empire Division game.
"All week, we practiced really hard," said Fusco, who gained 145 yards on 14 carries in the first half alone. "We were just focused on winning this for our coach."
"They gave us a great effort," said Steuerwald after the game. "It was a good experience. There was a lot of tension and a lot of stress."
The game pitted the two remaining undefeated teams in Section II Class AA, but it didn't take long for Shen (6-0) to establish dominance over CBA (5-1) on its way to clinching the Empire Division title. The Plainsmen didn't allow a CBA first down until the second quarter, and they thwarted a pair of scoring chances the Brothers had with solid coverage on pass plays into the end zone.
"We knew they were going to throw a lot of stops where they would go five yards on a pass play and then stop," said Steuerwald. "What we didn't want them to do was pass it five yards, stop and then get more yards after the catch. And I think we did a really good job of preventing that from happening."
"We moved the ball at times, but we never did put enough plays together to keep our drives going," said CBA coach Joe Burke.
Meanwhile, CBA's defense had a hard time bottling up Fusco and the Shen offense. Even when the Brothers thought they had stopped Fusco on a run, Fusco would slip out of a tackle and continue on for more yards. One such play in the second quarter netted 27 yards and set up a 17-yard touchdown run by Fusco.
"My [offensive] line is doing a great job of blocking down the field for me," said Fusco.
"Our guys played well defensively in the first half, actually," said Burke. "We just didn't tackle well."
When Fusco wasn't running through and around CBA's defense, it was Marcelino Christie doing the honors. The junior tailback needed only six carries to gain 61 yards, and he added a pair of second-half touchdowns.
Shen's first scoring drive of the night was set up by its defense. CBA quarterback Ted Cillis fumbled the ball as he was sacked by Brandon Miller, and Chris Stewart recovered it for Shen at CBA's 9-yard line. Two plays later, Fusco scored the first of his three touchdowns to give the Plainsmen a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
The next time Fusco touched the ball, he found a seam down the right sideline and dashed 51 yards for a touchdown to double Shen's lead with 4:48 left in the first quarter. That play was a sign of things to come, as the Plainsmen continued to gain large chunks of yards the rest of the night.
"It was their night. They came ready to play," said Burke.
Cillis completed 8 of his 18 passes for 107 yards for CBA, including a long pass to Galen Connell in the final seconds of the second quarter that set up the first of two scoring chances the Brothers had. CBA had two plays from Shen's 5-yard line in the game -- one with 3.6 seconds left before halftime, and the other in the third quarter -- but neither resulted in a touchdown.
Cody Zappone contributed 60 yards on the ground for the Brothers.
CBA concludes its regular season with a showdown against Ballston Spa (5-1) Friday. This time, it's for second place in the Empire Division and a home game in the first round of Sectionals.
Meanwhile, Shen travels to Saratoga Springs (1-5) Friday for a meeting of the two Class AA rivals.
"It's always a tough game," said Fusco. "We're going to show up to play, and so will they."
"There will not be a let down," added Steuerwald. "I give you my word, there will not be a let down."