September 7, 2013

Peru primed for another run at the title


PERU — Blake Altizer was one of the best quarterbacks in the Champlain Valley Athletic Conference last year — and he was just a sophomore.

Now a junior, he’s back, brimming with confidence and ready to lead Peru’s offense.

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“I have a lot more confidence than last year,” Altizer said. “Last year I was new to the system and everything. The whole preseason I was learning the system.

“But this year, I know the system, so I can slow down a bit and focus on reading the defense and stuff like that and making sure the other people around me are doing what they’re supposed to do instead of just what I’m supposed to do. I can help out.”

The Indians will look to continue their offensive prowess while developing their young defense. They open the 2013 football season today at Saranac Lake.

The Indians dropped their opener last season and then ran off nine straight wins, claiming the Section VII Class B championship in the progress, before falling in the NYSPHAA regionals.

Peru lost its top rusher from last year, Tim Remillard (he was also the second-leading receiver), as well as major contributors in running back Hunter Bruno and receiver Bret Boyer. But the Indians do have returning players at the skill positions.

Coach Nick Damiani said an experienced line will be the key to the offense. Three starters have returned, and Damiani expects the whole offensive line to be strong.

“If that comes together, everything else falls into place for us because we have some speed, we have some guys who can run and we have a returning quarterback,” Damiani said.

That quarterback was named a Second-Team All-Star last year after completing 86-of-148 passes for 1,563 yards and 25 touchdowns. He had six interceptions. Damiani expects Altizer to build off of that performance.

“With the offensive line I’m expecting to have, he’s going to have time; just gotta make the reads and get the ball out to the skill guys and let them make plays,” Damiani said. “So I feel pretty comfortable and confident with him back there.”

Altizer’s top target will likely be senior Zane Bazzano, who led the team with 29 catches for 439 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.

“He pushes in practice, and each drill he gets better and better,” Altizer said of Bazzano. “Each route is just as good as the last one, and he runs the same speed so that our timing is just good. So during the game, we just click.”

Bazzano is in his fourth year on varsity, but Peru’s other receivers have little or no varsity experience. But Altizer said he has confidence in the rest of the group — Pat LaRocque, Anthony Gallo, Jordan Guay and Jeff Smith.

The Indians’ backfield includes Jozua Cote, who lived in the school district when he was younger, moved to Quebec and has returned as a senior. Cote was an All-Star the last two seasons while playing for Ecole Secondaire Jacques-Rousseau in Longueuil, Quebec. He averaged 12.4 yards per carry last year and was the league’s second-leading rusher with 1,315 yards on 106 attempts. Cote scored nine touchdowns.

Junior Mackenzie LaRocque returns after running for 558 yards last season, and Dustin Landon and Rivelino Hendricks are also back. Damiani said Bazzano will spend some time in the backfield as well.

Defense is where the Indians were hurt most by graduation. Remillard and Bruno were excellent defensive players along with Austin Porter. Peru will look to veterans Tyler Clement, a senior defensive end in his third year as a starter, and senior lineman Jordan Robinson to help lead the defense.

Damiani said he was initially worried because Peru has just one returning linebacker, Taylor Avanzato. But the new linebackers, including Bazzano and Cote, have shown potential.

The Indians also had to replace most of their secondary.

“Defensively, I think it’s going to take us a little while to come together as a unit,” Damiani said. “Once that happens, I think we’ll be all right.”

The Indians will look to again be one of the top teams in the CVAC but are wary of challengers.

“I think anybody in our section could jump up as the standout team this year,” Damiani said. “Somebody’s going to have to take charge. It could be anybody.”

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