For the Glens Falls football team, the offense has seemed to take care of itself this season, racking up yards and scoring points without much trouble.
The Indians’ defense, however, will be on the spot Saturday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, as it will be called on to stop — or at least slow down — one of the best running backs in New York state.
Glens Falls, 10-2 and ranked No. 2 in the state, faces top-ranked Batavia (12-0) and outstanding senior Ray Leach in a noon kickoff for the Class B state championship. The Indians are hoping to win their second state championship in three years.
The game features a contrast in styles — the Indians’ high-octane passing attack sparked by senior quarterback Joseph Girard III, and Batavia’s powerful ground assault led by the record-setting Leach, who has rushed for more than 2,600 yards and 43 touchdowns — 22 in his last three games.
“We’re a spread, throw-the-ball-all-over-the-place team like Skaneateles, who they played last week,” said Glens Falls head coach Pat Lilac, whose team is pursuing its second state title in three years. “And they’re a really run-heavy with a dominant beast of a running back coming at you type of team with some wrinkles off of that.”
While the Indians practiced all week, mostly in the Adirondack Sports Complex dome, to counter Batavia’s running attack, they have also been battle-tested this season.
Glens Falls’ two losses were to Queensbury and Burnt Hills, Section II’s Class A finalists, and both took a physical toll on the Indians. They also overcame a series of key injuries, notably to senior receiver Noah Balcom and freshman running back Griffin Woodell.
“I’m really proud of these guys — we may have had more talented teams in the past two years, but this team is as much of a team as any of them,” Lilac said. “This team took two beatdowns to Queensbury and Burnt Hills. ... That could have been a point where it was make or break, ‘Which way are we going to go here, boys? Is this going to make us stronger or is it going to tear us apart as a team?’
“And I think being able to rebound from that second loss, that Burnt Hills game where we were all banged up, was huge,” Lilac added, “Then we started clicking, the defense started playing better and the offense seemed to feed off that, and it built up. So I think we’re playing good football right now.”
Putting the brakes on Leach will be the Indians’ biggest test of the season, as the Blue Devils’ star has size, speed and moves, and a quality offensive line blocking for him.
“He’s a big kid and we’re just going to have to get low down and wrap up — no arm tackling,” sophomore cornerback Aalijah Sampson said.
“We need to wrap up and tackle, hit him early and often, that’s what’s going to win the game,” senior linebacker Kyle Vachon. “If we don’t, it’s going to be a long day.”
Lilac said staying after Leach and swarming him will be the key.
“The important thing is you have to have a motor and keep running to the football, because one guy isn’t going to take him down,” Lilac said. “He’s so strong and good at breaking tackles, you just have to keep getting after him. He’s going to have his big runs — when he has a big run, you lift up your teammates up and get back and do it again.”
So it will be up to the Indians’ defensive line — nose guard Thompson Collins, tackles Nick Danahy and Dylan Niro, and ends David Barclay and Terelle Bonner-Welch — and linebackers Vachon and Connor Girard to handle Leach. Connor Girard leads the team with 105 tackles, while the rest have between 70 and 80 tackles.
Take away the 103 points the Indians allowed in losses to Queensbury and Burnt Hills and Glens Falls has surrendered just 11.6 points per game against Class B competition, about the same as Batavia.
The last time Glens Falls faced a 2,000-yard rusher in a state championship game, it was Chenango Forks’ L.J. Watson. The Indians bent, allowing Watson 191 yards and a couple of touchdowns, but ultimately held on for a 47-39 victory in 2016.
“It’s going to take stopping the run and playing as a team,” Collins said. “If we play our game and we stop that run, then we’re going to be hard to stop.”
The Indians’ offense has proven difficult to stop — they are averaging 41 points per game. They spread the field, get the ball to their athletes in space, mix in the run and if things break down, let Joseph Girard work his magic.
Joseph Girard has passed for more than 2,700 yards and 34 touchdowns this season. He has a stable of fleet-footed receivers like Trent Girard and Barclay to catch the ball, and Sampson and Cooper Montgomery handle the rushing chores.
Sampson was the hero of Glens Falls’ 48-28 state semifinal victory over Marlboro last week, scoring four touchdowns.
“You just have to give him the ball anywhere and he’ll make three or four guys miss every single play,” Joseph Girard said of Sampson. “It makes my job a lot easier throwing him little out-routes or just giving him the ball. He does a great job following his blocks and his keys, he knows when to cut, and at any moment he can run loose.”
“Obviously they’re a very skilled team and (Joseph) Girard is a great player,” Batavia head coach Brennan Briggs said. “They’re similar to Skaneateles. … They’re going to have more speed on turf — hopefully we can slow them down.”
Lilac said he knew this team was capable of reaching the Carrier Dome, praising their focus, competitiveness and drive to get there, especially after last year’s state semifinal loss that snapped their 24-game winning streak.
“Last year’s group, we might have taken some things for granted in the playoff run, but these guys have been locked in, and I think we’ve benefited from that,” Lilac said.
“It’s simple — we just have to tackle,” Joseph Girard said. “If we just tackle (Leach), I think we’ll be all right, but if we don’t, we’ll be in trouble. Our offense usually takes care of itself, but our defense has been really great in this playoff season. If we can continue that, I think we’ll be pretty good.”