Winless in four attempts, head coach Mike Melville’s squad is still looking for answers at the midway point of the season. To secure a playoff berth, they’ll need to win every game from here on out, including this Saturday’s home matinee against Port Jervis, a team Saugerties beat for the first time in nearly 20 years last season. That game, a tight 7-6 victory, came on the road in the midst of a six game win streak that brought Saugerties into the playoffs with momentum.
The loss to Cornwall was particularly tough for a Sawyer squad that has always been about smash-mouth, hardnosed defense. Three different Green Dragons scored rushing touchdowns, with another score on the ground the result of a 53-yard punt return by Joe White. (White had a career game against Saugerties, adding three touchdown receptions from quarterback Tyler Lawlor to his gaudy stat line.)
The 50-point total was actually less than the Cornwall team scored in its 65-0 obliteration of Goshen one week earlier. The always awesome Cornwall squad has been especially dominant this year.
That same weekend, the Sawyers lost to Monticello 55-21, though much of the damage came in the second half after a solid battle over the first two quarters.
A glance at last year’s game summaries reveals the names of many Sawyers who have since departed: Logan Steyer, Joe Zmiyarch, Mike Riozzi, Tim Poll and Will Valk, an impressive list of names who helped turn last year’s Sawyers into a serious contender in a tough Class A division.
Going into this season, Melville and his coaching staff knew they’d have to fill in some holes, but they took the right approach by developing their offense and defense around what they had rather than what they had lost. Senior Ethan Stanley, who plays center on offense and is in the primary rotation on the defense, is the only returning starter on the line. Mike Dodig, who had an injury-plagued junior year, returned healthy this season as a linebacker and wide receiver.
Though he may be a more versatile overall athlete than Poll, Pat Maloney’s prior experience as a quarterback came exclusively at the JV level. During last year’s varsity season, he played defensive back.
Melville said he knew his coaches and team had their work cut out for them, but they’d expected to have a bit more success at this point. “We are a little disappointed in how this season has started,” he said. “We were hoping for a few wins in our first three games, but it didn’t work out that way.”
In high school sports, like college sports, team chemistry changes radically each year with the constant turnover. Some years that process takes longer than others.
“I think we’re starting to develop some leadership,” Melville said. “Sometimes you find out the character of your players when they face adversity. We’ve faced it, and some of our kids are stepping up in practice and some are unsure.”
One of the players who has stepped naturally into a leadership role is Dodig, who said he’s been most surprised by how the Sawyer defense has performed.
“The biggest surprise is how our defense has been,” Dodig said. “I don’t feel that we have been playing up to our full capability.”
Dodig said the losses have hit the team hard, though they remain determined to figure out how to turn the season around.
“The losses have made it very frustrating for our team,” he said. “Our whole team feels that we should be playing better.”
Melville agreed, saying that the key may be whether what’s happening in practice will make it on to the field during game day.
“As coaches we try to work on correcting the mistakes that we have seen and try to stress to the kids that making mental mistakes is unacceptable for a successful program,” he said. “Only time will tell if the players understand what we’re stressing to them in practice.”
Dodig said the message is getting across.
“I think we just have to look at our mistakes in the film room and improve them on the field,” he said. “I feel that failure is life’s best teacher and we need to concentrate on what we aren’t good at rather than what we are.”
Nick Gruccio, a senior linebacker and running back, was optimistic the team would be able to get more positive results with hard work.
“It isn’t the lack of coaching or the lack of effort, it’s just something that happens,” he said. “Good teams have slow starts, but I think our program is good enough to pick ourselves back up and start winning games.”
After Saturday’s game against Port Jervis, the Sawyers hit the road for two straight weeks before returning home to host Washingtonville on Saturday, October 23.