With Friday’s kickoff of the mid-Hudson Valley’s high school football season impending, there are a number of questions soon to be answered that for now are worth pondering.
The season’s opening night features nine games involving area teams, including marquee matchups like Spackenkill at Marlboro and Our Lady of Lourdes, a Class A state finalist a year ago, visiting Brewster.
It’s been a while, so without further ado…
Can Spackenkill beat Marlboro?
It’s the obvious question, and this one is the game of the week.
“Marlboro is a really good team and so are we, so we can’t wait,” Spackenkill lineman Saad Khan said. “We’re very focused and loose. We’re going into it very confident in our playmakers and I know our line will be successful.”
Spackenkill represents the little brother whose recent growth spurt has it believing it can finally take on the older sibling; that the days of figurative wedgies and headlocks are over. Marlboro, the five-time defending champion in Section 9 Class B, is that big brother who lifts weights, has had facial hair since junior high and drives a convertible.
The Spartans broke out last season, reaching the sectional semifinals, and they return most of their core. Spackenkill, ostensibly, has more speed and game-breaking talent on the outside than Marlboro, which graduated several key players. The Iron Dukes, however, are still the bigger (physically) and deeper team. But can they continue to stave off upstart Spackenkill?
“They’re a great program and they’ve been doing a good job for a long time,” Khan said of Marlboro. “Even though they’re rivals, you have to respect what they’ve done.”
Who’s your quarterback?
Lourdes and John Jay had grown accustomed in recent years to dynamic quarterbacks leading the way. Alas, kids do graduate. The Patriots no longer have Ryan Schumacher, who led them to a Section 1 Class AA title in 2014 and back to the sectional final last season. Lourdes will be without Dean Rotger, the Section 1 record-holder for touchdowns and passing yards. And, neither had a clear successor.
Both teams held open competitions in preseason for the starting quarterback job. Lourdes has named Nick Gastin its starter but coach Brian Walsh said senior Paul Holze will also get playing time.
Gastin, a senior transfer from Arlington by way of John F. Kennedy Catholic in Somers, is “very athletic and has a strong arm,” Walsh said. Holze has knowledge of the offense and “is also a good runner who can execute.”
John Jay had a four-way battle between Lorenzo Kilkenny, Matt Egan, Dylan Burnett and Richie Eletto and a starter was recently named, coach Tom O’Hare said, “but we’re keeping it quiet” until game time.
How much impact will the new coaches have?
This offseason saw more changes at head coach in the mid-Hudson Valley than in the NFL. Yeah, we counted. Arlington (Mike Morano), Beacon (Tony Truscello), Dover (Casey Lorenz), Highland (John McFarland), Pine Plains (Robert Scott) and Poughkeepsie (Matt Relyea) all have new leaders.
With those switches often come changes in approach and philosophy. There’s also the adjustment that’s most visible to the public: schematic design and play-calling.
Franklin D. Roosevelt coach Brian Bellino, who has opened six of the last seven seasons against a team with a new coach, said it’s a challenge each time because his team doesn’t have much film or knowledge of the opponent’s system to use in preparation.
Beacon, for example, will be implementing an uptempo, no-huddle offense and 4-3 base defense. They’ll test that at home against Rye on Saturday.
One big change for Highland is the move of quarterback Isiah Daubon to a position-less role that includes some snaps at wide receiver and running back and, possibly, some at quarterback. Think former Pittsburgh Steeler Antwaan Randle El. The Huskies do have some tricks up their sleeve, and we expect a few to be revealed at home against Sullivan West on Friday.
What of rivals Roosevelt and Poughkeepsie?
Roosevelt had what seemed to be a promising 2015 season derailed by injuries, almost immediately. A huge blow was the loss of quarterback Justin Guerrero to a leg injury in Week 1 against Poughkeepsie. Now the Presidents, with a short roster of 27 players, hope for a rebound campaign and they’ll start… against Poughkeepsie.
There’s added intrigue as Poughkeepsie has a new head coach in Relyea. The Pioneers, after a miserable and controversial start, won three of their last four games in 2015 and came within a victory of making the playoffs. Players insist the chemistry is better and there seems to be a rapport with the 24-year-old coach. So, can Poughkeepsie hit the ground running this time? Literally, too. With a big offense line and track star Trevon Reid at quarterback, the running game is expected to be a strength.
How will new-look Millbrook fare in a new-look class?
The Blazers lost in the Section 9 Class C final to Liberty, a rematch for which takes place Friday night at Millbrook. It’ll be a grudge match and gauge for where the teams stand now. Except… Liberty now is in Class B and will no longer serve as a postseason obstacle for Millbrook.
However, John S. Burke Catholic has dropped down to Class C from B, adding a potential powerhouse to the mix.
Also of note will be Millbrook’s increased reliance on passing. With starting quarterback Jacob Wright returning, coach Sean Keenan said the offense will veer a bit from its signature Double Wing and feature some spread plays.
Stephen Haynes: email@example.com, 845-437-4826, Twitter: @StephenHaynes4
The Journal is your source for high school football coverage throughout the 2016 season. Follow Journal reporters Stephen Haynes (@StephenHaynes4), A.J. Martelli (@AJM_PoJoSports) and Phil Strum (@PJStrum) on Twitter for live updates throughout the night and check http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com for stories on all the games and an updating scoreboard.
Fallsburg at Dover, 4:30 p.m.
Wallkill at New Paltz, 6:30 p.m.
Poughkeepsie at Roosevelt, 7 p.m.
Spackenkill at Marlboro, 7 p.m.
Highland at Sullivan West, 7 p.m.
Liberty at Millbrook, 7 p.m.
Lourdes at Brewster, 7 p.m.
John Jay at Ossining, 7 p.m.
Arlington at Carmel, 7 p.m.
Chester at Red Hook, 1:30 p.m.
Pine Plains at Pawling, 1:30 p.m.
Rye at Beacon, 1:30 p.m.
Mahopac at Ketcham, 1:30 p.m.