By Gordon Woodworth, Chronicle News Editor
The Glens Falls High School football team is New York State Class B champion for the second time in three years after a hard-fought 55-32 win over previously unbeaten Batavia in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome on Nov. 24.
The 11-2 Indians overcame a jittery start, contained Batavia’s record-setting running back Ray Leach and its potent multi-faceted offense scored 34 second-half points.
Sophomore Aalijah Sampson ran for 135 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Joseph Girard III threw for 314 yards and two TDs and ran for two more scores. He was voted the Most Outstanding Player in the final game of his record-setting career.
Trent Girard had seven catches for 183 yards and a touchdown.
Junior David Barclay, named the game’s outstanding offensive back, caught two passes for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Defensively, Glens Falls was once again led by Barclay, senior lineman Thompson Collins, who had five solo tackles and two assists, and senior linebackers Kyle Vachon and Terrelle Bonner-Welch. Vachon won the sportsmanship award, Bonner-Welch was named top defensive lineman.
Coach Pat Lilac added his own spotlight player. “Somebody who always gets overlooked, more than anybody, is Nick Danahy,” Lilac told The Chronicle.
“During that stretch in the second half when we started running the ball and were trying to burn clock and get first downs, Nick was absolutely dominating the kid that he was blocking, and we just kept running behind him, maybe seven or eight players in a row. Aalijah made some great moves after getting past the line of scrimmage, but Nick was outstanding.”
Glens Falls is now 35-3 over the last three seasons under Coach Lilac, winning three sectional titles and two state championships. The Indians join Troy, Cambridge and Amsterdam as the only Section II teams to win more than one state title since the New York State Public High School Athletic Association went to the current playoff system in 1993.
‘Blue collar, hard-working’ like GF
Coach Lilac said this team “reminds me of the City of Glens Falls and the community — just real blue collar, hard-working, loyal, tough. I think this one means a little bit more than the other one [in 2016] because it was harder to do.”
In his 19th season, Coach Lilac said the Batavia game “was a microcosm of this season, going down 14-0 and not blinking when they were facing adversity. We lost a couple of games this season, we had a couple of our real key players go out with injury…
“I think back to our 2016 team that was so talented and so deep and just had playmakers all over the place and guys that could fill in if the playmakers got hurt. And this team didn’t have that. I think this Glens Falls team was much more of a blue collar, workmanlike team.”
No panic down 14-0
What was the mood on the Glens Falls sidelines when Batavia went up 14-0 and recovered an onsides kick?
“I didn’t feel a sense of panic at all,” Coach Lilac said. “I don’t think anyone did. The general sense was ‘Alright, we’re going to be okay. Stick together and we’re going to be okay.’ Let’s just hang in there and withstand the wave of bad things that happened and they did.
“After that onside kick, we got the ball back and then it was third and 10 and Joseph completed a long pass to David Barclay, and when that happened, I think we all exhaled a little bit. And from there on out, they did what they have been doing throughout this whole playoff stretch and just kept putting up points.”
Like every team Batavia played this season, Leach made some ridiculous runs and finished with more than 400 yards rushing. But 80 of them came late in the game when Glens Falls had a huge lead.
“He’s a great back, but I thought in that second quarter, to allow us to go from down 14-0 to up 21-20 at halftime, during that stretch we did some very good things against him defensively,” Coach Lilac said.
“And with him, a lot of it seemed like it was all or nothing. He’d break off a real long run or we’d hold him to a one-yard gain. Even though he did put up those numbers, I thought our kids did a decent job of getting them off schedule a lot, where they were in a second and nine or third and eight and they have to do things that maybe they are not as good at.”
Key play: Barclay TD on 4th & 13
Coach Lilac said the key play of the game came early in the third quarter when Joseph Girard hit Barclay for a touchdown on fourth and 13.
“That was probably was the play of the game, because that forced Batavia to play catch-up the rest of the game. We were able to control Leach again for another stretch, get a three-touchdown lead, and Aalijah Sampson really picked it up in the second half, and he and Leach traded touchdowns so it didn’t feel like we were threatened all that much going down the stretch. We just kept scoring and they were too far behind to really challenge us.
“To win big games, that’s what has to happen. Your best players have to make plays and all of our playmakers had great games. Trent Girard, my God, he was out of his mind.”
‘One Heartbeat’ more than a slogan
This year’s slogan was “One Heartbeat,” which Coach Lilac said was crucial in winning another state title.
“Going back to last year’s team, my biggest regret as a coach was I didn’t have us playing as tight-knit as a team as you need to be going down the stretch. Pleasantville was a very good team, and they deserved to win, but we didn’t help ourselves with our closeness and our unity in that game.
“…So this year, from day one, we talked about that perfect team and playing with one heartbeat, knowing that we had to play Queensbury and Burnt Hills and the inevitable injuries and ups and downs that happen, to be successful we were going to have to stay together. So they adopted that saying of One Heartbeat…It’s something they really bought into to, putting the good of the team ahead of all of their self-interest. When you face adversity, you have to be that way or you are going to crumble.
“I give them credit, especially those seniors, they set the tone with it. Any time we would change a formation and the kids would run to the opposite side of the field, every time a Glens Falls kid passed another Glens Falls kid, they were giving each other five. Every time a sub came in for another kid, there was a five.
“I thought, they are doing it. It’s not just a slogan. They were living it. You could feel it, and I think that was a big part of why when they were down 14-0, it didn’t faze them that much.”
Coach Lilac praises coaches, players
Looking back, Coach Lilac said, “The thing I enjoyed the most about it was in all of the hours the coaches put in — and what a great coaching staff we have — the amount of time we spend together and the fun that we have and the laughter really makes it easy to put in those hours. We’re really fortunate.
“And the players. At the end of the day, all of those rings and trophies and all of that stuff really don’t amount to a hill of beans. It’s the relationships that you have with the players and the coaches that you’re going to cherish more. Those are the things we are most proud about.”
Coach Lilac said the varsity coaching staff included defensive coordinator Kurt Conduzio and running back/linebacker coach Mark Girard.
“Me and those two are the three paid coaches,” Coach Lilac said. “The rest are volunteers. A guy whose worth can’t be overstated is Mike Macura. He was our defensive back coach, but he also did so much film breakdown stuff and gave us an edge scouting-wise that we haven’t had in the past. He was really, really a key component.
“And then we had Dave Casey, Lee Girard, Cam Girard and Mike Allen. That’s a great crew. Two of them are Hall of Famers [Casey and Mark Girard], and I don’t know how many years of experience Mike Macura has. We were very fortunate to have such a great staff.”
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