By Dave Ruden
If you go by its coach’s season-long philosophy, the Brien McMahon football team will carry the same record into Friday night’s game at Ridgefield as it did in its previous seven contests: 0-0.
“My plan going into the year was to take it one game at a time,” said A.J. Albano, the Senators’ coach.
But we all know — the McMahon players and coaches included — that there is a lot more at stake this week, both in terms of perception and reality.
The Senators have gone 1-0 seven times this season, and right now have the inside track to a berth in the FCIAC championship game. All they have to do is defeat the Tigers on Friday night and St. Joseph the following week.
The two opponents are by far the most challenging on the regular-season schedule. And right now, despite their record, few have bought into the Senators as legitimate contenders because they have not defeated a team that currently has a winning record.
“I told the kids everyone can doubt us as much as they want,” Albano said. “Maybe we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulders, but that’s a good thing. If we keep winning all the rest will take care of itself.”
Because they were unable to fill a bye in their schedule, the Senators will have played just once in 21 days at kickoff on Friday. And while outsiders will use the game as a thermometer for the their legitimacy, the McMahon players and coaches also consider the outcome a measuring stick, but not one gauged by jumping through hoops.
“We’re not looking to prove ourselves,” Albano said. “We’ve proved ourselves. Ridgefield is a big game every year. They are a division opponent and they have a good team every year.”
Though it has played one fewer game than the rest of the league, the Senators’ 74 points allowed are 63 less than the next-best team.
The defense is led by linebacker Kenny Keen, who will end up receiving a number of postseason honors. He has 96 tackles. Timmy Hinton and Allan Lenard, who has six sacks, are part of one of the state’s best linebacking units, while the line features Matt Hargrove and Mike Bottex.
Albano is old-school: run the ball and play good defense. The Senators have three times as many yards on the ground (1,734) than in the air (587).
Despite the loss of Trevon Forney, their star running back, to a season-ending injury, the Senators have received strong efforts from Hinton, who is averaging 7.5 yards a carry and has 8 touchdowns, Keen, Kentrell Snider and Malik Whittaker.
Albano stressed two other elements that he believes will be critical to Friday’s outcome.
“Special teams are going to be a factor,” he said. “Ridgefield has very good special teams. We have to match them in that phase of the game. They also have a lot of explosive players and we are going to have to tackle well. That will be a big part of the game.”
Ridgefield (6-2) will not be lacking for incentive. It is currently ranked 13th in the Class LL point rankings and would pick up a lot of bonus points that will be needed to make a push toward a state playoff berth.
The Senators have not appeared in the state playoffs in 19 years. This is the biggest game of Albano’s career.
Just don’t expect him to put it in that perspective.
“It is a big one because we have a chance to go to states and Ridgefield is always a big game,” Albano said. “It is a big game for them. They are going to be desperate.”
No matter what happens, one thing is certain: when the Senators take on St. Joseph next week, they will be 0-0.