CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Friday night marks the return of 1st & 10, and the debut game of the week features a cross-class battle between reigning AA runner-up Shenendehowa and A champion Niskayuna.

The Silver Warriors made a Week 0 statement, winning 47-0 over Section III’s Auburn. But Friday is Shen’s season opener, and the Plainsmen, led by one of the top offensive trios in Section II, are ready to show what they’re made of in 2023.

“Sometimes you can just feel confidence, and you can feel that comin’ off this team,” said senior quarterback and second-year starter Michael Whatley. “We feel like we can do a lot of damage. I think there’s no doubt in our minds we can compete with anybody in the section.”

And there shouldn’t be any doubt the Plainsmen can compete with the best the section has to offer; they’ve proven they can by reaching back-to-black Class AA Super Bowls.

But this year the question is, “Can they take that next step, and bring home a section title?” – something that’s eluded Shen the last three seasons.

Head coach Brian Clawson certainly feels he has the roster in place to do so.

“You could see it on day one – right after our last game last season – you know, we have a good nucleus of seniors that are back this year,” said Clawson. “They worked extremely hard in the offseason. And they really created a strong culture of hard work, togetherness, and really spring boarded us into our offseason, into the summer work that we did and into the preseason as well.”

Among that senior class is Whatley, who, paired with senior wide receiver Luke McAuliffe, made for arguably the top QB-wideout duo in the section last year. And their connection has only improved ahead of this season.

“I think it’s actually grown a lot, ’cause we’ve been puttin’ in the work all offseason,” said McAuliffe. “And now we’re lookin’ really comfortable together. We’re connecting on everything, so I think it should be good.”

Add running back Ihsaan Alozie into the equation as well, who’s coming off a breakout sophomore campaign with over 1,000 all-purpose yards and 13 touchdowns in nine games.

“To be fair, last year, I didn’t feel like I was quite ready for that…task load that was put on me,” said Alozie. “But this year I’m feeling way more confident. I’ve seen the ups and downs; I know that I can take what (is needed of me).

Shen’s season opener with Nisky is far from your typical AA/A matchup, and Clawson knows that better than anyone.

“We haven’t played this team since 2019, and they are so much different and better than they were four years ago. So, I think the grit, the toughness and playing hard for four full quarters is going to be critical for our football team. I’m really looking forward to them coming out strong.”

Opening kick-off from Shen is set for 7:00 p.m. Friday. Tune in to 1st & 10 on FOX23 at 10:30 and WTEN at 11:00 for highlights and reactions from that game, along with a slew of Week 1 matchups.