Brains will be as vital as brawn Friday night if the Amsterdam High School football team wants to get back to the Section II Class A Super Bowl.
To defend a triple option offense like one the Rugged Rams will encounter Friday when they visit the Averill Park Warriors in the Class A football semifinals, intelligence and discipline matter just as much as speed and strength. If one player misses an assignment, then all of a sudden it's off to the races.
That's something the Rams can't afford if they want a chance to defend their 2015 sectional championship a week from Friday at Shenendehowa High School.
"We've all got to do our jobs, we've all got to have discipline," Amsterdam senior linebacker Elijah Newborn said. "We've got to know our assignments."
Averill Park (7-1) has ridden its flexbone option offense to its best season in years. Since a 44-36 overtime loss to Queensbury to kick off the season, Averill Park has won seven straight games -- including a landmark 19-16 win over Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake -- to put the program on the doorstep of its first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, when the Warriors lost to an Amsterdam team that was on the way to a state championship.
Coach Zach Gobel's run-heavy scheme doesn't feature one player, but spreads the ball around efficiently. Quarterback Ryan Long runs the show with a team-best 753 rushing yards while also throwing for 450 yards. Fullback Carl Nitz is third on the team in rushing with 448 yards but has been brutally efficient near the goal line with 14 rushing touchdowns. Wingback Dennon Fisher is the team's top outside threat with 567 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns, including 188 yards and two scores on just nine carries last week in the Warriors' 54-7 quarterfinal rout of Gloversville.
Garrett Wagner, Dom Law and Bill Bornt will also see plenty of the ball for the Warriors, with receiver Ryan Wood as a dangerous option if and when Averill Park opts to pass. Amsterdam's defense can't afford to focus on a single player, head coach Doug Edick said.
"You've got to be able to stop the fullback and the quarterback, and then they'll pitch it," Edick said. "You have to be disciplined. It's assignment football. You've got to stay disciplined."
The Rams (6-2) have surged to five straight wins since a 1-2 start, outscoring their opponents 214-65 since a 40-0 Week 3 loss to Queensbury. Dale Stanavich has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards and Jaden Fallen has added a physical inside running presence in a offense that's had to adapt to three different quarterbacks this season, with senior Adel Rosario set to make his fourth straight start following injuries to junior Trey Holloway and sophomore Trey Ausfeld.
Injuries threatened to derail the Rams at midseason, but just like last year when the team overcame an 0-3 start to win a sectional title, things seem to be peaking at the right time -- evidenced by last week's 49-20 rout of Lansingburgh in the team's best all-around effort of the season.
"We've got the momentum," Newborn said. "We need to practice hard to get ready for this team. We're all hungry, we all just want to go out there and play the best game that we've played."
The Rams will get one of their injured contributors back this week as senior receiver and defensive back Robbie Spagnola is set to return to the lineup. Spagnola has been out since dislocating his left elbow Oct. 1 against South Glens Falls.
"We're trying to get healthier, and Robbie helps because he can play multiple positions," Edick said.
Spagnola's return should be a boost for a Rams team desperate to get back to a championship game.
"It means a lot to us," Newborn said. "It means a lot to get back there, keeping the momentum going for our underclassmen. We want to get another championship before we leave."
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Adam Shinder/Recorder staff - Amsterdam linebacker Tyrone Watson, right, wraps up Anthony Aponte during practice Wednesday at Lynch Literacy Academy.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff - Amsterdam's Robbie Spagnola throws during practice Wednesday at Lynch Literacy Academy.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff - Amsterdam quarterback Adel Rosario throws during practice Wednesday at Lynch Literacy Academy.
Adam Shinder/Recorder staff - Amsterdam football coach Doug Edick talks to his team at the end of practice Wednesday at Lynch Literacy Academy.