SCHUYLERVILLE — Two weeks ago, the Schuylerville Black Horses ground out a rugged defensive battle for the Section II football title.
A week ago, the Horses took to the air for a lopsided state quarterfinal victory.
If there's a way to win a football game, Schuylerville has shown a knack for finding it and adapting, thanks to both a flexible scheme and a flexible lineup.
The Black Horses (12-0), the newly minted No. 1-ranked Class C team in the state, hope to use that versatility Saturday when they face run-heavy, fourth-ranked Dobbs Ferry (11-0) in the state semifinals. Kickoff is set for noon at Middletown's Faller Field.
The winner advances to play either Chenango Forks or East Rochester-Gananda in the state championship game, set for Friday at the Carrier Dome.
A big second half lifted Moriah to a 28-14 victory over Greenwich in a Class D state football semifinal on Friday at Faller Field.
Schuylerville head coach John Bowen said his team's ability to use multiple styles is the direct result of a particularly rugged schedule: Fonda (twice), Hoosick Falls-Tamarac, Hudson and Susquehanna Valley — all state-ranked teams at some point.
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"They are all really well-prepared football teams, and they try to make you play left-handed," said Bowen, whose team has won 19 straight games. "They all tried to make us do what they don't think we do quite as well. If we have to use more of a ball-control ground game, we can do that. If we need to open things up, we can take guys out of the box and do that."
Bowen said morphing the Horses away from a full-time flexbone to a spread-option offense has been the key. That transition started during their seven-game Fall II season last spring.
"That's really helped us put the ball in the air more," he said.
Last week, seniors Owen Sherman and Ryan Dow connected all afternoon in a 52-0 state quarterfinal rout of Ogdensburg Free Academy. Dow scored six touchdowns, five on passes from Sherman, who completed 8 of 9 passes for 190 yards.
Both players were key contributors on Schuylerville's Class B state finalist team in 2019. Sherman has passed for 1,365 yards and 14 touchdowns, and run for six more. Dow has 30 catches for 574 yards and nine TDs. Sophomore Luke Sherman leads the team with 739 rushing yards and 18 TDs.
"It was just one of those days where Owen and I found each other all the time," Dow said. "Owen just had a great game, threw the ball extremely well and put the ball right where he wanted it, especially where only I could catch it."
"The last several weeks, Owen has taken what the defense has given him," Bowen said. "The other key piece has been the selflessness of the other five or six guys who understand that this game, they might be a decoy or blocking on the perimeter. Their number-one priority has been being on the right side of the scoreline at the end of the game."
Consistent, swarming team defense has been the backbone to the Horses' success. They have allowed an average of eight points per game.
"They seem to be a very disciplined, physical, detail-oriented team focused on execution — you can see it on film," Dobbs Ferry head coach Joe Cox said.
Schuylerville's defense will be challenged by Dobbs Ferry's wing-T ground attack, fueled by the 1-2 punch of Brian Dann and Robert Sanzo. Dann, a 210-pound junior fullback, has rushed for 1,323 yards and 31 touchdowns, including a 290-yard, five-TD day in last week's 56-28 win over James I. O'Neill. Sanzo, a senior halfback, has added another 1,141 yards and 16 scores, often behind Dann's blocking.
"It's a hard-working group — we have a solid offensive line, a couple of talented backs, very blue-collar team," Cox said. "They're a bunch of guys we trust to get it done for each other."
"They have gotten to this point by making teams make mistakes — by causing teams to not be patient, by having teams turn the ball over," Bowen said. "Dobbs has done an outstanding job of taking advantage of those added possessions."
Schuylerville and Dobbs Ferry last met in the state semifinals in 2004 and 2005, won by the Eagles, 46-8 and 35-0 — when most of today's players were in diapers.
While the Black Horses made trips to the Carrier Dome in 2015 and 2019, Dobbs Ferry had been there eight times, most recently in 2018, and won four state titles, the last in 2011.
"They're very, very good, they're very comfortable with what they do," Bowen said. "They make you defend sideline to sideline. If we're not disciplined in our responsibilities, we're going to find ourselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard."
Follow Pete Tobey on Twitter @PTobeyPSVarsity.