Nisky’s Grastorf sees positives in debut

PETER R. BARBER/Gazette Photographer Niskayuna head football coach Brian Grastorf gives a reassuring smile to quarterback Dan Brownell Friday.PETER R. BARBER/Gazette Photographer Niskayuna head football coach Brian Grastorf gives a reassuring smile to quarterback Dan Brownell Friday.

BY JIM SCHILTZ
Gazette Sportswriter

NISKAYUNA – Those teenagers on the Niskayuna sideline weren’t the only ones with jitters early on  in the Silver Warriors’ season-opening football game with Saratoga Springs Friday night.

New head coach Brian Grastorf had some nerves, too.

“A little bit,” Grastorf said after Saratoga’s 46-21 Class AA Empire Division win. “I’ve been involved in a lot of games, but you know, this was different.”

The outcome was the same as the last time Grastorf faced Saratoga as the Silver Warriors starting quarterback, but unlike that 39-6 loss back in 2005, Niskayuna was able to rattle off some points.

Saratoga raced to a 46-0 lead, before Niskayuna finished the scoring.

“It was a step in the right direction,” the 29-year-old Grastorf said. “We stopped them on defense and drove down and got three touchdowns. We saw a lot of good things in the second half. The guys stuck in there and kept battling.”

Most of his guys never saw a varsity snap before, including junior quarterback Dan Brownell, whose 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Halusic capped the scoring.

“I’ve been working with coach Grastorf since I was in eighth grade, and I love him,” Brownell said. “He does a great job of preparing us. It just took us a while to get going. We have a lot of juniors and eight seniors. Everyone had butterflies. It took some time to get used to varsity speed.”

Saratoga used a potent ground game to build a 27-0 lead in the first quarter, and went to the air to increase its advantage to 39-0 at the half.

“Ninety percent of them never played a varsity game before, and Saratoga is good,” Grastorf said after a brief post-game chat with his Silver Warriors. “We definitely have things to work on. The kids are looking forward to another week to get better.”

Niskayuna, which has endured five straight losing seasons, including two as a Class A independent in 2014 and 2015, got better Friday night.

A 30-yard kickoff return by Kam Thomas and a 23-yard reception by Halisic set up Dey’lon Edmond’s one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. In the fourth, Halisic’s 28-yard grab led to a two-yard scoring run by Derek Meisner. Edmonds’ fumble recovery soon after set up Halusic’s diving touchdown catch.

“We won’t be a team that gives up,” Brownell said. “Everyone is counting us out. Putting points on the board tells people we’re coming.”

Niskayuna took some hits before hitting back, with Cam Adams sparking Saratoga’s first-quarter scoring spurt with touchdown runs covering 17 and 32 yards. Wes Englitine, from six yards away, and Ashton Capone, from the one, also produced touchdowns on the ground.

“I told the guys it’s not going to be perfect,” said Grastorf, an Ithaca College graduate who coached Niskayuna’s junior varsity and freshman teams for three years before taking the varsity spot in place of John Furey. “I told them to learn and move forward. Have fun out there.”

Grastorf was pleased with the effort throughout, and an upgrade in second-half execution.

“If it’s a 46-0 game, it’s a different situation,” he said. “Getting some points is a positive for us, and we missed some things that I thought we could get. We can build on that.”

Niskayuna hasn’t beaten a Section II Class AA opponent since October of 2013, when it topped Albany 36-22 as part of a 2-7 season.

“We’re not going to win the state title, but I think we can have some success,” Grastorf said. “You saw how the kids battled.”

Edmonds made a tackle to halt a fourth-and-four bid by Saratoga in the first half to go with his fumble recovery and touchdown, and Niskayuna teammate Michael Dean intercepted an Eglintine pass.

Eglintine threw second-quarter touchdown passes to Carter Steingraber and Lewi Clarke that covered 78 and 47 yards, respectively. Capone scored his second touchdown early in the third quarter on a 57-yard scamper.

Saratoga went from an 11-win state runner-up team in 2015 to a 3-win injury-plagued team in 2016. Eglintine sustained a knee injury in the Blue Streaks’ season-opening loss to Albany, and was lost for the season.

Mechanicville (Craig Cavotta), Columbia (Bob Treacy), Queensbury (Matt Crosman), Granville (John Irion), Albany (Mike Ware), Green Tech (DJ Jones)  and Corinth (Justin Culligan) are among the other Section II schools with new head football coaches this year.

Saratoga Springs 27 12  7 0 – 46

Niskayuna 0 0 7 14 – 21

S – W. Eglintine 6 run (run failed)

S – Adams 17 run (Williams kick)

S – Capone 1 run (Williams kick)

S – Adams 32 run  (Williams kick)

S – Steingraber 78 pass from W. Eglintine (kick failed)

S – Clarke 47 pass from W. Eglintine (kick failed)

S – Capone 57 run (Williams kick)

N – Edmonds 1 run (Brownell kick)

N – Meisner 2 run (Brownell kick)

N – Halusic 13 pass from Brownell (Brownell kick)

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, jims@dailygazette.com or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.