CHATHAM — The Chatham football team has waited a month for a shot at redemption.
That’s how long it’s been since the Panthers suffered a heartbreaking loss to Warrensburg in a battle for the No. 1 seed in the Class D playoffs.
Chatham has been chomping at the bit to make up for that loss and will get its chance when the two teams play for the Section II Class D championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Schuylerville High School.
“We’ve had a great week of practice, the weather has cooperated and we got in some real quality practices, so far,” Chatham coach Rich Sitzer said. “Had a real good defensive day on Thursday and the kids are feeling confident.”
Since the loss to Warrensburg, Chatham (7-2) has reeled off three straight wins, including back-to-back shutouts. The Panthers defeated Whitehall in last week’s semifinal, 33-0, to punch their ticket to Saturday’s title game.
In the first meeting between the two teams back on Oct. 11, the Chatham defense shut down Warrensburg’s high-powered attack, limiting the Burghers to just one touchdown and a two-point conversion. That was enough to pull out an 8-7 victory, though, as the Panthers failed to take advantage of several impressive drives.
“We’re not making any excuses, we lost, but we feel like we left some points on the table the first time we played them,” Sitzer said. “Our offense has continued to click and continued to play better. The kids really feel good about it. They feel if we get out there and play our football game we can take home a W.”
The Panthers are healthy for the most part with one possible exception — quarterback Casey Sitzer suffered an injury to his left hand that required stitches in a semifinal victory over Whitehall and will be a game-time decision.
“He split his hand open during the semifinals, kind of a freaky injury,” Coach Sitzer said. “He came down on the turf and ended up getting 10 stitches in the palm of his left hand. We’ll play it by ear. We have a real good trainer and we’ll tape him up, get a glove on it. It just going to be a matter of pain tolerance for him and what he can handle. We’ll figure out on Friday what he can and can’t do.”
Coach Sitzer feels confident that Tyler Kneller will be able to step in and run the team should Casey not be cleared to play.
“Tyler stepped in against Whitehall when it was 0-0 and showed great poise and drove us down the field to score and threw the ball well and did a good job of managing the offense. Obviously, we’d miss Casey if we can’t have him out there, but the guys and the coaching staff don’t feel like we’re behind the 8-ball with Tyler in there.
“We feel like we can still run our offense and have a lot of weapons around Tyler with Q (Quinten Kastner), Jayshawn (Williams), Spence (Ford), (Jacob) Sorros, Thomas Van Tassel has been playing great, catching the ball. The offensive line has been working hard on blocking schemes and we’ve been keeping it simple for them, so we’re feeling confident.”
Kastner has been the Panthers’ workhorse out of the backfield, rushing for 824 yards and 13 touchdowns on 66 carries.
Sorros had his best game of the season in the semifinal win over Whitehall, carrying the ball 19 times for 116 yards and a touchdown. He has 336 yards rushing and four touchdowns on 45 carries this year.
Sitzer has been a dual threat, rushing for 273 yards and six touchdowns, while also completing 33 of 64 passes for 566 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions.
Jayshawn Williams has nine receptions this season, seven of which have gone for touchdowns.
Warrensburg (8-1) comes into the contest averaging 47 points per contest, but most of that has come in seven games as the Burghers were shut out in a cross-division game with Stillwater and scored just eight against Chatham.
A strong rushing attack has been Warrensburg’s bread and butter this year as three runners have more than 450 yards rushing through nine games.
Jesse Griffin rushed for 131 yards in the first meeting with Chatham and has 1,308 yards for the season. He’s also scored 14 touchdowns and has seven games of 100 yards or better, including a 308-yard performance against Coxsackie-Athens.
Dylan Winchell follows Griffin with 851 yards and nine touchdowns on 47 carries, while quarterback Mac Baker has rushed for 479 yards and eight touchdowns on 55 carries.
Jaron Griffin has been the Burghers top defensive player with 61 tackles and 9.5 sacks. Freshman Tristen Hitchcock has 68 tackles and Zach Shambo 66.
“We’ve been able to watch a lot of film and made some corrections,” Sitzer said. “That first game we feel we gave that one to them. It was a tight game and they’re a tough team, but we certainly don’t feel like we played our best game.
“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play them again. The kids feel they have something to prove. They’re a good football team and defending their title, they won the Super Bowl last year, so we’re looking for a hard-fought game, but if we keep the penalties to a minimum and play our football game we’re going to come out of it with a W.”
The winner of Saturday’s game advances to regional play and will play the Section VII champion on Friday, Nov. 15 at Beekmantown High School.