Bethlehem’s RJ Diego gets ahead of a pair of Columbia defenders during last Thursday’s cross-divisional game in East Greenbush. The Eagles host Guilderland Friday with a Section II Class AA playoff berth on the line.
Photo by Rob Jonas.
continued With Silver split wide, Bethlehem has turned to sophomore Mike Graves to carry the load at tailback. Graves leads the Eagles with 503 rushing yards and has three games where he has gained more than 100 yards.
As the offense has straightened itself out, Leach’s concern has shifted towards his defense, which has had a difficult time keeping opponents out of the end zone. Other than a 43-14 victory over Saratoga in Week 2 where they forced seven turnovers and a 44-14 victory over Albany in Week 5, the Eagles have allowed at least four touchdowns every game. Columbia (3-1, 5-1) had several plays of 30 or more yards in last Thursday’s victory, including touchdown runs of 77 and 66 yards from quarterback John Stanley.
“We gave up too many big plays last week, which we have to eliminate if we hope to win this game [against Guilderland],” said Leach.
Big plays have not been Guilderland’s method of attack this season. Instead, the Dutchmen tend to pick apart opposing defenses with a mix of runs and short passes by quarterback Tim O’Connor. The senior signal caller has thrown for 634 yards and rushed for 304 yards, thanks in large part to the support provided by his offensive line.
“One of the things that has been consistent for us is that we’ve played strong on the line of scrimmage,” said Penna.
Bethlehem will be the first quality opponent Guilderland has faced in three weeks. The Dutchmen’s last two games were wins over the two winless Class AA teams – Albany and Colonie – and both games were decided by 30 or more points.
“Our last two opponents have been playing down this year, while our first four opponents [Ballston Spa, Shen, Saratoga and CBA] have been playing up for the most part,” said Penna. “The nice thing is we didn’t play down to the level of competition [against Colonie and Albany].”