BY RICKY ST. CLAIR Press-Republican
---- — PLATTSBURGH — The Plattsburgh North Stars have some unfinished business to take care of tonight.
One year removed from a title game loss to Monroe County, the North Stars (9-2) will get a second crack at an Empire Football League (EFL) championship when they host the Syracuse Shock at the Plattsburgh High School Athletic Complex for 7 p.m.
“Each season is different,” Plattsburgh coach Scott Aguglia said. “Last year, we had a much different journey from beginning to end. All in all, the only thing that matters is that you reach the championship. You have to be in it to win it.”
The two teams split the regular-season series at one game apiece.
The North Stars recorded a 38-18 win at home July 27, but dropped a 50-27 decision to the Shock (9-2) at the D. Donald Distin Athletic Complex in Syracuse Aug. 24.
Syracuse has experienced a challenging road to the EFL finale.
The Shock captured a 16-10 road win over the Watertown Red and Black in first-round play Sept. 28 before knocking off the North East Pennsylvania Miners in Scranton, Pa., 33-14 last Saturday.
Syracuse sports the deadliest 1-2 rushing tandem in the EFL. Justyn Hardwick and Dewayne “Flash” Gordon have combined for 2,047 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on the year.
Plattsburgh’s rugged defensive unit suffocated Hardwick and Gordon July 27, holding the dynamic duo to 83 rushing yards on 23 attempts.
“I’d expect them to try and run the football down our throat and see if we can stop it,” Aguglia said. “We’ve had an opportunity to prepare all week. Coach (Dave) Hackett has worked to install a game plan that should get executed to stop the run. Hopefully, it works.”
The North Stars will counter with their patented balanced attack. With Aguglia overseeing play-calling responsibilities, Plattsburgh has operated 215 passing plays and 195 running plays this season.
Harry Rascoe, a Seton Catholic alumnus, is the field general on offense. The signal-caller has accumulated 1,833 passing yards, including 31 touchdowns on just six interceptions.
Rascoe’s primary targets are Dexter Geohagan and DJ Barber, who rank 1-2 in EFL receiving yards, respectively. Geohagan and Barber combined for 80 yards and a touchdown in the North Stars’ 28-20 EFL semifinal defeat of Glens Falls last Saturday.
Josh Nephew and Elijah Parks helped dictate the running game in Plattsburgh’s eight-point win. Nephew scampered for 58 yards and two touchdowns, while Parks added 56 yards on seven carries.
The North Stars, though, racked up 55 yards in penalties last Saturday. Fifty of the 55 occurred in the first half of play.
Aguglia said limiting mental mistakes will play a significant role in the outcome of the championship bout.
“It’s absolutely critical to play disciplined football on both sides,” Aguglia said. “I think we have to limit penalties, and we have to hold on to the football as far as ball security goes. We can’t afford any fumbles or interceptions. If we can take care of business along those lines, I like our chances.”
After Plattsburgh’s semifinal win, Aguglia said he expected the championship to be one physical, hard-hitting football game.
“Syracuse is a very physical team, and they have a lot of athletes with team speed,” Aguglia said. “We need to match that intensity early and be able to put forth that effort the whole game. If we play mistake-free football, we’ll be in great shape.
“It’s important for our guys to realize that fate is in their own hands. They’re a good team. We are due. It’s an important game, but I feel like we can compete with anybody. We need to be confident going into the football game.”Tale of the Tape Plattsburgh (9-2) Syracuse (9-2) Passing Harry Rascoe 111-197-5-1,701-29 TJ Sheard 64-122-9-673-5 Rushing Josh Nephew 54-251-1 Justyn Hardwick 157-1,345-8 Elijah Parks 37-202-2 Dewayne Gordon 84-702-10 Receiving Dexter Geohagan 31-550-12 Tyron Burke 32-306-6 DJ Barber 20-348-4 Evan Twombly 12-125-1 Chris Fish 27-290-5 Dewayne Gordon 7-89-0 Tackles Jason Remillard 63 EJ Maeweather 42 Cody Kirlew 51 Emery Kinsey 37 Sacks Matt Kodador 3 Zay Saffold 5 Dave Staley 3 Charmain Smith 3 INTs Brandon St. John 4 Depaul Crowell 3 Jason Remillard 3 Quan Williams 3 *Regular season statistics.