BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — Just like last year, the Niskayuna football team lost Friday night to Green Tech.
Unlike last year, the Silver Warriors walked off their home field this time knowing their program’s prospects are looking up.
“We played them much differently this time,” said Niskayuna head coach John Furey, whose team fell 16-7 in a fun Week 1 affair just a little more than 11 months after losing 40-8 to the Eagles. “We’ve grown immensely during the last year.”
That showed for the Silver Warriors, which are playing as a Class A independent squad for the second season in a row. That makes Niskayuna — a Class AA school, by student population — ineligible for the postseason, but that did nothing to take away the fight from the Silver Warriors in their opener.
After Green Tech opened the game with a scoring drive capped with a 33-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback James Holmes to senior wide receiver Raki Johnson, Niskayuna did what it struggled to last year: it responded.
“The whole idea last year was to get off the field without an injury a lot of the time,” said Furey, whose squad only had a few seniors last season. “We took a terrible physical beating against [Green Tech] last year.”
This time around, things were different. After Green Tech went ahead 8-0 after a 2-point conversion, Niskayuna put together an 11-play drive that senior quarterback Jake Shephard finished with a 5-yard touchdown run. Senior DJ Endres added the extra point for the Silver Warriors.
“We didn’t back down,” Shephard said.
Those opening drives for both teams represented the only points in the game until Green Tech scored early in the third quarter on a 1-yard plunge from Tyler Dobbs, which Holmes followed with his second 2-point conversion of the night.
But while Niskayuna hung around for the duration of the contest — Green Tech could not breathe easily until senior Milton Lovelace, a would-be punter, mishandled the snap and rushed 49 yards for a deal-closing first down on 4th-and-14 with a minute to play — the Silver Warriors still made the types of mistakes Furey is trying to remove from his team’s repertoire. The squad had a couple penalties that proved costly, while it also had four drives end with a lost fumble.
“But we were in the game against a quality team with good athletes,” said Furey, who said he took away more good than bad from his team’s season-opening loss.
While the fumbles and penalties were concerning, Niskayuna showed a strong running game that senior Sean Haffner led with 49 yards on 14 carries; senior defensive backs Santi Herman and Justin Frankel provided solid coverage on Green Tech’s Johnson, one of Section II’s best wide receivers, who only had three receptions for 36 yards besides his early touchdown grab; and, the Silver Warriors showed a strong defensive middle.
“We know we can do it, we’ve just got to fix what we need to fix for next week,” said Shephard, whose squad travels to play South Glens Falls in Week 2.
With the defeat, Niskayuna’s losing streak is at eight games and the Silver Warriors’ last win came on Oct. 30, 2013. While it has been nearly 700 days since that most-recent victory, efforts like the one Niskayuna had in Week 1 has Furey thinking his team has some fun in store for it this season.
“We’re one year older, one year better,” he said.
Green Tech 8 0 8 0 — 16
Niskayuna 7 0 0 0 — 7
G, James Holmes 33-yard TD pass to Raki Johnson (Holmes 2-point conversion). N, Jake Shephard 5-yard TD run (DJ Endres PAT).
G, Tyler Dobbs 1-yard TD run (Holmes 2-point conversion).
Green Tech: Holmes 5-14, 77 yards, 1 TD
Niskayuna: Shephard 3-for-3, 38 yards
Green Tech: Johnson 4-69 (1 TD); Amil Rodriguez 1-8
Niskayuna: Jared Houghtaling 2-20 (1 fumble); Sean Haffner 1-8
Green Tech: Ahzir Turner 9-68 (1 fumble); Milton Lovelace 2-48; Holmes 11-36; Rodriguez 3-33; Dobbs 3-12 (1 TD); Elijah Young 3-7; Damair Skervin 1-4; Johnson 3-(-)6
Niskayuna: Haffner 14-49; Will Malerk 5-31; Shephard 17-28 (1 TD, 2 fumbles); Brandon Munger 3-25 (1 fumble)