John Clayton’s debut with the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake varsity football team two years ago didn’t end well when his extra-point attempt clanged off the upright with just over a minute left. Queensbury held on for a 28-27 victory.
On the same field against the same opponent Saturday, again with just over a minute to play in another Week 4 matchup, Clayton faced another big play. This time he came through with a clutch run on third-and-3 for a first down that sealed the Spartans’ 24-20 win and kept them atop the Class A Northwest Division standings.
“That’s the biggest first down we’ve had in a long time,” Burnt Hills coach Matt Shell said of Clayton’s 4-yard surge.
Clayton threw a touchdown pass to Josh Craig and picked up the first of his two key running first downs to set up a field goal by Connor McCormick. The senior completed his quarterback duties with a pair of kneel downs.
“Everybody had a chip on their shoulder because it was Queensbury,” said Clayton, who was pleased despite his own modest stats that included a combined 86 passing and rushing yards. “Me and Joe had a little extra incentive.”
Clayton and Joe Messare are the only Burnt Hills players who saw significant action in each of the last five games between the Class A rivals. Queensbury won the previous four meetings, including Section II title-game triumphs in 2013 and 2014.
“It’s been so long since we beat them,” said Messare, a senior who plays guard and middle linebacker. “Two years and four games. It’s such a sweet taste. This is my favorite varsity win so far.”
Burnt Hills had beaten Queensbury nine straight times before that 28-27 loss. The 14-7 setback against Queensbury that followed denied Burnt Hills a sixth consecutive area championship. Queensbury won more comfortably last season, 42-0 in division play and 34-13 in the Super Bowl.
“This is where I missed that kick,” Clayton said. “It hasn’t settled in yet. There’s still some adrenaline going. We came in here and beat a good football team on their turf.”
Burnt Hills built a 24-0 lead, with Mike Leveroni starting the spree with an 80-yard scoring run on the Spartans first play from scrimmage. Jacob Warren, Ben Schiher and Matt DeLano recovered fumbles to help quell Queensbury early on, and when the hosts came back to make it a game, Burnt Hills twice stopped two-point conversion tries and twice pounced on onside kicks.
“It’s all about having a polished team,” Messare said. “The team that made fewer mistakes won.”
Shell liked the little things his Spartans did in boosting their division record to 2-0 and overall mark to 4-0.
“People see the big runs,” he said. “Picking up a blitz, blocking down — those things go unnoticed, but they set everything up. They’re big.”
Schiher’s fumble recovery in the second quarter set up Clayton’s 35-yard touchdown pass to Craig. McCormick’s 20-yard field goal on the last play of the opening half made it 17-0, and O’Donnell raced 54 yards on the first play of the third frame to increase the Spartans advantage.
“We didn’t get too big in the moment,” Clayton said. “We did the fundamentals. The line did their steps. The backs hit their holes.”
Leveroni ran 12 times for 161 yards, and O’Donnell ran seven times for 73. Aside from his fumble recovery, DeLano grabbed an onside kick after Queensbury got within four with 3:49 to play.
“You have to be physical. That’s first on the list,” Shell said when asked what it took to beat Queensbury. “Next you have to block and tackle, and then make plays.”
Both of Burnt Hills’ touchdown runs came on sweeps around the right end.
“They made an adjustment,” Queensbury coach John Irion said. “Our guys were like, ‘That’s not what we practiced.’ ”
Jared Bruno got Queensbury (1-1, 2-2) on the board in the third quarter when he blocked a punt, scooped up the ball and went 22 yards to the end zone. In the fourth quarter Brett Rodriguez scored on a 13-yard run and followed with a two-point run, and the star senior — one of the holdovers from last year’s state runner-up team — later caught a 24-yard scoring pass from Kevin Collins.
“I liked how we came out to play in the second half,” Irion said. “It’s awesome that they did that. We may need that again somewhere down the road.”
BH-BL 7 10 7 0 — 24
Queensbury 0 0 6 14 — 20
BH-BL — Leveroni 80 run (McCormick kick).
BH-BL — Craig 35 pass from Clayton (McCormick kick).
BH-BL — McCormick 20 field goal.
BH-BL — O’Donnell 54 run (McCormick kick).
Q — Bruno 22 blocked punt return (pass failed).
Q — Rodriguez 13 run (Rodriguez pass from Collins).
Q — Rodriguez 24 pass from Collins (run failed).