|Matt Szymanski is one of 23 seniors leading the way to 12 post-game victory celebrations and counting.
Brockport athletics photo
By Joe Sager
Brockport is rocking.
The undefeated Golden Eagles have a program-record 12 wins and are in the NCAA quarterfinals for the second time in program history. They want to keep making history Saturday when they visit Delaware Valley.
“It’s been amazing. It’s been a special run. We really don’t want it to stop,” Brockport sophomore quarterback Joe Germinerio said. “We just have that self-confidence. Week in and week out, we approach everything the same way. We try to lock in and compete every day in practice. We go in every day with a positive mindset. All these guys want to be coached and get better every day. Then, we just lay that all on the line on Saturdays.”
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That’s been a successful cycle for Brockport. But a lot goes into the team’s recipe as it keeps piling up wins. Making it to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2003 hasn’t altered the team’s approach, either.
“I think our team has done a really good job of refocusing. It’s always great to celebrate a win for a couple days,” Brockport senior linebacker Matt Szymanski said. “Everyone has done a good job coming into the new week on Monday with a whole new mindset of just trying to get the next one.”
And, once they hit the practice field, it’s back to work.
“I think it all comes down to the way we practice. We come out every day, no matter what, and our practices are pretty intense,” Szymanski said. “It’s just a good time. Everyone loves being out there and being ready to prepare for the next game.”
Another factor in the Golden Eagles’ success is team chemistry.
“I think there’s been a different feel on our team this year. Everyone is so close and I think that’s been the biggest difference,” Szymanski said. “Everyone is always doing something with each other and everyone is pretty good friends with each other. It’s a great feeling. You look at all the work we’ve put in to prepare for this season and it feels like it’s all starting to pay off a little bit.”
Brockport head coach Jason Mangone, in his fifth year, has noticed a strong camaraderie.
“I think the big thing we’ve attributed it to is our senior class. We have 23 seniors on our roster and that’s our biggest class in a while. We haven’t had more than 15 or 16 seniors the past few years,” he said. “This group of seniors is our first full recruiting class. We were able to identify some good talent and now they are paying dividends.
“They’ve been all showing that leadership to keep guys staying focused on the next day. I want them to enjoy what they’ve done, while we’re doing it, rather than looking back at it a couple months later. It’s a fine balance of really taking in what we’ve accomplished, but, at the same time, staying focused on what we have to do today to get better tomorrow. The kids enjoy it and move on. It’s been good.”
With a large senior class, urgency throughout the season is heightened, too. That’s kept the team on task.
“With having 250 teams and only a handful of at-large bids, every week (during the regular season) is a playoff game. Now, we’re going into our 13th playoff game. Had we lost in Week 3, 6 or 9, there’s no guarantee we would have made the playoffs,” Mangone said. “Having so many seniors that are so focused on how to get better today because tomorrow is not guaranteed has been important. Really, they stay within the flow of what we’re doing and no one gets too ahead of ourselves.”
A balanced approach on all sides of the ball has helped fuel the team’s run, too. The offense tallies 40.6 points per game, but doesn’t rely heavily on one area for production. Brockport averages 260.6 passing yards and 210.5 rushing yards per game.
“Some teams that we’ve faced are very good at taking away the run or focus on defending the pass. We feel we do both at an efficient level and that, no matter what teams try to do, we have an answer and we are able to throw efficiently and run at a high level,” Mangone said. “We’ll take advantage of what is working.”
Germinerio leads the offense with 2,977 yards passing and 26 touchdowns. He’s rushed for 463 yards and 11 scores as well. His top targets are Joseph Ortiz (64 catches, 539 yards), Jerry Thompson (48, 569), Tyree Brown (47, 790) and DaQuan Hubbard (39, 939). Justin Morrison leads the rushing attack with 878 yards. Christian Hollister has 423 yards, while Brown has run for 317 yards.
“We definitely want to try to run the ball. We want to get it to Morrison, Hollister, and Brown and let them go,” Germinerio said. “Running the ball sets up the pass. We want to be a balanced offense and that’s what we pride ourselves on.”
The Golden Eagles’ defense limits opponents to 12.2 points per game. Brockport has been especially stingy against the run game as teams average 31.0 yards per outing on the ground.
“We have a newer defensive coordinator in Mike Fox. He has been a great coach and gets everyone on the same page. Everyone really trusts him and trusts each other. We do our one job and know that the guy next to us is going to ball out, too,” Szymanski said. “We have a couple seniors leading the way and that helps. Experience is a big thing. At the same time, we have some younger guys stepping up. We’re getting contributions from all levels, which is pretty great to see.
“When the offense has a down drive, they can rely on our defense to get the ball back. The same thing goes for our offense. If the defense has a bad drive, we can look to them to turn it around. We complement each other pretty well.”
That was the case in the squad’s 49-28 win over Wesley last Saturday. Facing a 21-all halftime stalemate, the Golden Eagles produced five turnovers in the second half to pull away for the victory.
“I am so proud of our guys, especially with the way our defense responds in a tight game,” Germinerio said. “We’re a resilient group. We pride ourselves in not getting caught up in things. We just want to play and do what we have to do.”
Depth is another advantage for the Golden Eagles. When Germinerio was held out of the team’s regular season finale against St. Lawrence, sophomore Jason Hellwig stepped in and led Brockport to a 28-7 victory.
“While the best teams have the best players, we always believe the best teams have the best number twos. Here we are going into our 13th game and attrition and health are part luck. We are playing some guys who maybe didn’t start at the beginning of the year, but have stepped in and there’s been very little let off,” Mangone said. “Our success will come down to how good our number twos are. Having Jason Hellwig at quarterback, he can basically call the game like we need. That’s huge for our staff.”
The Golden Eagles hope the formula pays off against Delaware Valley (12-0).
“They are a phenomenal program and team. A lot of their kids really pop out on film. I can see why they are 12-0. They have tremendous size and athleticism. Their defense does a decent job disguising coverage. They really use linebackers and defensive linemen efficiently together. They are seldom out of position,” Mangone said. “Offensively, they have a dual-threat quarterback who can run and throw. They have monster receivers, in terms of height. They just have a lot of size all across the board. They have very athletic linemen. They really have no weakness in any aspect of their team, which is what I guess happens at this stage. If you’re in the quarterfinals, you probably don’t have many weaknesses and they certainly don’t.”
Added Germinerio, “They are an extremely good team. We’ll have to limit mistakes. Both teams are 12-0 and mistakes will kill you. Field position will be huge. We have to make sure not to put our defense in bad situations.”