Bethlehem battles with Saratoga for Empire Division lead

It might be a little early to call Friday's Bethlehem-Saratoga Springs football game a battle for the Empire Division title, but it will give one of these two teams an inside track to it.

With six divisional games, it will certainly be an advantage to be 2-0, said Saratoga coach Terry Jones, "but we still have a long way to go. This won't clear anything up."

Both teams are coming off impressive divisional victories last weekend. Bethlehem (1-0) played a near-flawless game in a 29-7 victory over defending Empire Division champion Guilderland, while Saratoga (1-0) pulled away to a 27-14 win against Ballston Spa.

"We didn't have a penalty on either side of the ball," said Bethlehem coach Ron Smith. "In Week one, from the coaches' perspective, we're happy about that."

Bethlehem received a strong performance from tailback Sean Murphy against Guilderland. The senior carried the ball 25 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns.

"He got hit, and he still got two or three extra yards after the initial contact," said Smith.

The Eagles defense also came up big. Guilderland gained only 74 yards on the ground and didn't have a first down in the first quarter. That, plus a 90-yard interception return for a touchdown from Kyle Niehaus, put a smile on Smith's face.

"The thing that pleased me was that we were more physical than Guilderland," said Smith.

Saratoga didn't have the near-flawless performance that Bethlehem had in its opener, but the Blue Streaks got the job done when they needed to against Ballston Spa. Third quarter touchdown runs from Ford Plowman and Leejay Pollacchi helped Saratoga break a 14-14 halftime tie on its way to the win.

"We have a number of (running) backs that we feel comfortable handing the ball to, and that was certainly the case (against Ballston Spa)," said Jones. "We certainly would like to be more successful with our passing game in terms of yards."

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