Dutchmen give Blue Bison first loss since 2011

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Stiff-arming the competition: Guilderland’s Joe Cornell shoves a Shaker player to the ground during the first half of Guilderland’s 31-to-28 victory over Shaker last Friday night at Guilderland High School. Cornell ran for 65 yards on 12 carries to go along with his 17 receiving yards on five receptions.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

A Flying Dutchman: Guilderland’s Brad Johnston leaps over a Shaker defensive player in the third quarter of Guilderland’s 31-to-28 victory over the Blue Bison on Friday night at Guilderland High School. Johnston ran for 11 yards on three carries and had 73 receiving yards on seven receptions. Micaiah Henningham led the Dutchmen with three rushing touchdowns on 18 carries for 64 yards.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Overcome with emotion: Guilderland’s Joseph Cozza fell to one knee in tears after Guilderland won Friday night’s game in stunning fashion. Teammate Josh Lamb leans in to hug Cozza as Ethan Hayes drums a victory beat on his back. Quarterback Frank Gallo had 25 completions on 47 attempts, throwing for 262 yards, breaking his completions’ record in a single game; he also had one interception.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

“Red, white, and black” shout the Guilderland cheerleading team before the football team runs onto the field last Friday night at Guilderland High School. After bursting through a paper banner, the team went onto beat Shaker, 31 to 28, in overtime.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Fighting for every yard: Guilderland’s Brad Johnston fends off a Shaker player during the Dutchmen’s 31-to-28 victory at home last Friday night. Andrew Sentz kicked the game-winning field goal in overtime from 28 yards away.

GUILDERLAND — Persistence is paying off for the Guilderland football team this season. The Dutchmen always find a way to win.

After beating Shaker, a team that hadn’t lost since 2011, at home last Friday with a 28-yard field goal by Andrew Sentz in overtime, Guilderland is 4-0 for the first time since 2007. That year, the Dutch won a Class AA title.

The 2013 version of Guilderland, more and more each week, is looking like a championship competitor. The team has Section 2’s best passer, Frank Gallo, who has thrown for 1,135 yards and nine touchdowns, but it goes much deeper than that.

Any exceptional football team has multiple weapons, and the Dutch have a few players — Micaiah Henningham, Jake Smith, Joe Cornell, Brad Johnston, Marcus Knodler, and Zach Formica — who can alter the pace of a game, offensively or defensively.

“That might be the best team we face all season,” said Gallo after beating Shaker, 31 to 28. “It’s one game, one week. We want to buy into each week, play well each week. We’re not looking back.”

Smith broke a Guilderland record for receiving yards in a game with 138 against Shaker, breaking the mark he already owned. Gallo broke one of his own records, too, throwing 25 completions.

“This is just another win that puts confidence in our team,” Smith said. “We definitely know that we don’t quit.”

Of course, that was evident during the Week 1 victory at Ballston Spa, when Guilderland scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. If the Dutchmen look down a tunnel and see the winning light, it’s most likely going to get there.

“We have to make the most of our senior year,” said Johnston, who hurdled a Shaker defender last Friday, landing on his feet to continue the run. “I’m not playing college football, so this is it; I’m trying to make some memories.”

Beating the defending Class AA champions with a field goal in overtime must qualify as something worth remembering. When Sentz’s kick went through the uprights, the Red Sea roared like thunder, and some people cried.

“It was kind of intimidating to face them,” Johnston said of Shaker; the team missed a game-winning field goal as regulation time expired. “It was great to take them down,” he said. “I’m happy that we have this momentum going into these tough next few weeks.”

The triumph over Shaker was an assessment; Guilderland’s three previous opponents (Ballston Spa, Albany, and Bethlehem) were a combined 0-9 heading into Week 3. Could the Dutchmen beat a feasible foe?

“From a confidence standpoint, we now know that we can beat a solid football team,” Guilderland Head Coach Dan Penna said. “This was a test. We could get an idea of where we stand against the top-caliber of Class AA.”

The Blue Bison defense had shut out its two previous opponents (Niskayuna and Nottingham), but the Dutch were able to score 31 points. Penna said that Guilderland’s offensive execution was well planned.

“It’s great when you can play your hearts out and come through with an emotional win, and still feel like there’s room to grow,” said Penna. “The kids played extremely hard tonight, and I’m extremely proud.”

Addressing his team after the win, Penna had a huge grin on his face. Assistant Coach John Winters tipped his hat to the players, saying, “I don’t usually take my hat off, but I take my hat off to you.”

Guilderland struck the scoreboard first, setting the tone. Gallo connected on a third-down bomb to Smith near the sidelines, Cornell dragged a few tacklers for another first down, Johnston caught a pass to the four-yard line, and Henningham finished the rest.

The Dutchmen have multiple ways to spoil whatever party their foes were planning.

“It’s always nice to come out and throw the first punch,” Smith said. “There’s ups and downs, but we all stick together for the whole game.”

Shaker was able to score twice for a 14-to-7 lead, but Guilderland scored the next two touchdowns, again finding a receiving/rushing balance, something the Dutch have done well all season. The team likes to share the ball, spread the wealth.

Guilderland could have sealed the game; two offensive drives stalled out in the fourth quarter, giving Shaker the opportunity to tie the score. The Blue Bison had the first possession of overtime, but Marquis Thomas sacked Matt Woods, and Henningham stuck his hand in to break up a would-be touchdown pass to Michael Mainella.

Despite some poor execution down the stretch, Guilderland earned an important win. Its perfect record is alive.

This week, an undefeated Shenendehowa comes to town. At least Guilderland knows what it’s up against.

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