CHATHAM — As late as Wednesday afternoon, it appeared as though the Chatham football team would not be playing a game for the second straight week.
Chatham was scheduled to open the season this past Friday against Catskill/Cairo-Durham, but when the Mustangs didn’t have enough players eligible, the game was canceled. Then, earlier this week, the Panthers found out their Week 2 opponent, Lake George, had several players test positive for COVID-19, and that game was also canceled.
Schuylerville went through a similar situation this week when its game against Johnstown was canceled, leaving the Black Horses with an opening on their schedule.
So Chatham will host the No. 3 ranked Class C school in the state, Schuylerville, in its season opener on Friday at 7 p.m.
Also on Friday, Hudson hosts Rensselaer, Ichabod Crane entertains Coxsackie-Athens and Taconic Hills goes to Watervliet at 7 p.m. Saturday, Catskill/Cairo-Durham travels to Voorheesville at 1 p.m.
Chatham coach Shawn Caldwell and his players are well aware of the fact they’ll be up against some stiff competition on short notice on Friday, but at this point, the Panthers are glad to be finally getting a chance to play.
“When I got the call from JB (Brantley) there was the first reaction of ‘oh boy,’ Caldwell said. “That just lasted a moment and then it was ‘let’s get this setup.’ My guys want to play. It’s been a tough start with losing our opponents for the first two weeks."
Caldwell is excited to put his talented team to the test.
“Being our first game you, have to expect some mistakes,” Caldwell said. “We just need to make sure we don’t make big mistakes like turnovers or missed assignments. It is going to be a battle, I want to see how our guys react to the adversities we will face.
“Ultimately there is nothing bad that can come out of this game. We will get to see what we got against a very good opponent. It is going to help us in the coming months.
“We couldn’t ask for anything better. A state-ranked opponent coming to our place on a Friday night in the Fall. The guys have been waiting a long time for this and they are very excited.”
With a solid mix of talented veterans and newcomers, Caldwell expects the Panthers to be competitive in every game this season.
“It always starts with our seniors,” Caldwell said. “We have a small group this year, but we have high expectations on the field and off. We are led by Jayson McKay on both lines and Kyle Jackson as a wide receiver and corner.
“Konur Barlow should also have a big impact on both sides. Noah Fowler and Mario Forbes will see time on offensive and defensive lines. We have a solid kicker in Evan Groom in his senior year.”
The Panthers will benefit from the return of quarterback Tyler Kneller, who was impressive as a sophomore this past Spring during the Fall 2 season.
“We have a pretty strong junior class and will need them to step up,” Caldwell said. “Tyler Kneller at quarterback and safety, Matt Radley and running back and linebacker, Ednell Knapp at running back and corner, Mike Pierro at wide receiver and corner.
“Noah Hutchinson will be all over the field at either the offensive line, running back, and linebacker and Jacob Baccaro will be on both sides of the ball playing line. John Mulligan is hurt right now, but we expect some good things out of him. We also have some strong sophomores who will see considerable time in Lennie Sitzer and Jacob Taylor.”
The strength of this year’s team will be it’s depth and experience at the skill positions.
“We have experience with talent,” Caldwell said. “Most of them saw considerable time in the spring. Our offensive and defensive lines will take some time to develop.
“We have guys that the coaching staff have a lot of confidence in. The group as a whole though is very inexperineced playing varsity football so it may take some time to put everything together.”
Caldwell and the team, like always, have set some lofty goal for the 2021 season.
“Our goals every year never change,” Caldwell said. “No. 1 is to win a south division title. No. 2 is to then win a sectional title. Both our division and class should be very competitive this season so we will need to work hard and prepare every week to be successful.”
Caldwell sees Class D being as tough as ever.
“Class D will be very competitive,” he said. “Within our division we will have some tough games. At the moment, I would say Stillwater would be the favorite. Our game with them will be a good test to see where we are in Week 4. The North Division is very tough with Greenwich, Cambridge, Warrensburg, and Granville.”