MARLBORO – The Marlboro High School defense faces its toughest challenge of the season in Nick Gallo and the high-scoring Schalmont offense.
The Iron Dukes know that.
They also know that slowing down the Section 2 champions is the only way to give their team any chance of advancing to its first Class B state championship football game.
The Iron Dukes (9-2) and Sabres (11-0) meet in a state semifinal for the second consecutive year 3 p.m. Saturday at Kingston’s Dietz Stadium, with the winner advancing to the state final at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome on Nov. 30.
Schalmont is averaging nearly 60 points per game, having scored 659 points in 11 games. The Sabres have scored 60 or more points in six games this season and will test a Marlboro defense that has given up 106 on its current eight-game winning streak.
Marlboro High School plays Our Lady of Lourdes on Friday in Kingston.
“It’s very important (to start the game strong) and we can’t let them get up on us like (Our Lady of) Lourdes did (in the state quarterfinal),” Marlboro senior linebacker Ryan Greaven said. Lourdes led 14-0 midway through the second quarter. “I’m confident our team is not going to get down on ourselves if we fall behind in the game. You want to play it safe and not let them get up early in the game and have guys start quitting.”
Marlboro and Schalmont met one year ago in the state semifinals, with the Sabres scoring three touchdowns in the first three minutes and 60 first-half points in a 66-0 victory. Schalmont, which capitalized on five Marlboro turnovers in the first half, eventually lost in the state title game to Maine-Endwell, 22-21.
“(Schalmont’s) level of play was way higher than us last year,” Greaven said. “We know we have to play our ‘A’ game and not make any mistakes like taking penalties and missing your assignment on a play.”
Schalmont’s offense revolves around Gallo, a senior quarterback who ran for 101 yards and three touchdowns in the 60-20 state quarterfinal win over Peru. Gallo can run and throw the ball like Marlboro graduate Ryan Cary, who ran for over 2,000 yards and threw for over 2,000 yards in 2013.
Gallo also is one of the state’s top defensive players and has several punt blocks in his career on special teams.
The Sabres backfield also includes senior Hunter Gac, who contributed 144 rushing yards and three touchdowns one week ago.
“They run all their plays well and it all goes through their quarterback. If we can stop Nick Gallo from doing his thing, we can win,” Greaven said.
“We know they have a little better team speed, but we’re not slow either,” Marlboro coach Rich Ward said. “Football is about blocking and tackling. Our technique is pretty good, which corresponds to a good defense. The kids are hungry and intense.”
Senior defensive back Alain Dumas believes Marlboro’s veteran defense will be ready for the Sabres.
“We have to trust our coaches, the gameplan they prepared for us and the spots they have us playing to succeed,” Dumas said.
Dan Pietrafesa: firstname.lastname@example.org, 845-437-4849, Twitter: @PJDanPietrafesa
Marlboro vs. Schalmont
What: Class B football state semifinal
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dietz Stadium, Kingston
What’s next: The winner advances to the state title game at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse on Nov. 30, against the winner of the other semifinal between Section 4’s Maine-Endwell and Section 6’s Cheektowaga.
TV: Time Warner Cable Sports (channel 323)
Live updates: Follow Phil Strum on Twitter, @PJStrum