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Sports Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, September 8, 2011

Dutchmen can’t hold off Scotties

By Jordan J. Michael

BALLSTON SPA –– Quarterbacks are supposed to pass the ball, but don’t ever underestimate their legs.

Senior quarterbacks Tim O’Connor of Guilderland and John DeGuardi of Ballston Spa each ran for 140 yards during last Friday’s season opener in Ballston Spa. DeGuardi lost three separate fumbles in the game, but his two rushing touchdowns of 78 and 27 yards in the second half helped the Scotties complete an extraordinary come-back victory.

With 53 seconds left in regulation play, DeGuardi scrambled 27 yards through the bewildered Dutch defense to a score, basically untouched. Ballston Spa won, 22 to 18, after trailing 12 to 0 at halftime.

Tony Stanish had a chance to haul in a pass from O’Connor near the end zone with less than 20 seconds remaining, but the Scotties’ Matt McDonald broke up the play. The final incomplete pass was fitting because every touchdown on Friday was on the ground.

“I’m a run-first quarterback on a run-first team,” O’Connor, who threw for just 75 yards, said after the game. “We have lots of speed and lots of options. Sometimes the pass is there, sometimes it’s not.”

Passes weren’t really there on Friday. However, when they were, it had a telling impact on the game.

For example, McDonald’s catch off a tipped pass and a 25-yard gain kept Ballston Spa’s late winning drive afloat. O’Connor’s interception off the Scotties’ broken flea-flicker pass play kept Ballston Spa from a sure score early in the fourth quarter. Also, Connor Drislane had a big catch of 33 yards that set up Guilderland’s second touchdown.

“I know this is cliché, but this was a game of inches,” Dutch Head Coach Dan Penna said afterwards. “It was real close. We didn’t get that last punch but, for the most part, we had answers.”

O’Connor, making his first varsity start, showed leadership and determination from the opening whistle. He led the Dutchmen to score on its initial drive, which was a two-yard run by Stanish. With little time remaining in the first half, O’Connor dove for the end zone, crashing into the pylon, giving Guilderland a 12-to-0 lead before intermission.

“He played great,” Penna said of O’Connor, who was a receiver last season. “He’s already used to this offense.”

O’Connor is filling the shoes of Ryan Smith, one of the best quarterbacks in Guilderland history, who is now playing Division I football at Colgate. Smith threw for 3,321 yards and 35 touchdowns over the last two seasons, both Dutchmen records.

Smith wasn’t afraid to take total control of a game at any moment, and, on Friday, it looked like O’Connor isn’t either.

“I’m pretty confident,” said O’Connor. “The bread-and-butter plays were set and we were able to execute.” He mentioned that Ballston Spa started to catch on after a while, filling holes. “We need to work on that,” O’Connor said.

When asked about the quarterback change, Penna seemed confident with the transition. Smith was a gunslinger, but O’Connor is more poised with running the ball.

“Basically, it’s the same plays with more wrinkles, more of a short-pass game,” said Penna. “Our offense is flexible and we accentuate strengths. There are several run plays.”

On Friday, touchdown runs for the Dutch of 45 yards by O’Connor and 5 yards by Steve Polsinelli were called back by penalties. Guilderland failed to score on either drive.

“My players battled hard,” Penna said. “We were prepared, but we’re not quite there yet.”

Guilderland conditioned hard during the preseason, Penna said, and it showed on Friday night. The defense got off the ball well, forcing four turnovers. The offense took care of the pigskin, connecting on some giant plays.

The Dutchmen will have time to tighten some screws before a meaningful game tomorrow night at home against Shenendehowa, a team that Guilderland upset last year on the road.

“We should have won,” O’Connor said about the loss to Ballston Spa. “Our vibe got killed, but it’s over. Let’s move on to next week.”

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