|Brockport linebacker Tim Terry celebrates a tackle of a St. John Fisher player, along with defensive lineman John Tucci, left, defensive end Terry McDonald, linebacker Alex West and linebacker Matt Szymanski. St. John Fisher had minus-51 yards rushing.
Brockport athletics photo
By Joe Sager
All the negatives are turning into positives for Brockport.
The Golden Eagles’ defense — particularly the front seven — has been extremely tough to run against. It leads the nation in rushing defense at negative-11.6 yards per game.
You read that right — negative — 11.6 yards per game.
It’s been especially impossible for an opponent to find any daylight the past two weeks, as well. St. John Fisher (minus-51 net rushing yards) and Hartwick (minus-37) can attest to that.
“It’s always nice to see the negatives,” Brockport senior linebacker Matt Szymanski said. “It’s a simple philosophy. Our first job is to stop the run. That’s what we work on day in and day out. When Coach Fox (Mike Fox, defensive coordinator) comes down from the booth and tells us the numbers, it’s always good to hear.”
Hitting the wall
Opponents are going nowhere right now vs. Brockport.
|Sept. 15||St. Lawrence||23||1|
|Sept. 29||St. John Fisher||19||-51|
The No. 4-ranked Golden Eagles (5-0) have not allowed a net rushing yard in nearly a month — St. Lawrence finished with exactly 1 yard in a 65-12 defeat on Sept. 14.
“I think that comes with everyone doing their job. Each guy has a specific job. If we consistently do it and run our techniques perfectly, we think we will have success,” Szymanski said. “We try to perfect it and do all the little things right. We just try to work on our craft every day and make it perfect.”
The numbers back it up for Brockport, which fell to Mary Hardin-Baylor in last year’s national semifinals.
“Being part of this unit is really fun. We just go out there and have fun with it,” senior nose tackle Austin Dean said. “Coach Fox tells us to just go out and read our keys and we’ll be fine. He’s absolutely right on that. We had a lot of returners coming back from last year — the whole front is back. We had a couple new kids come in and they’ve just fit right in. There’s not just one good player on the team — we’re all out there and hungry to play.”
And, hungry to attack opposing backfields.
“Getting pressure on the quarterback is probably the best feeling in the world. Coach Fox tells us just to get back there and cause havoc and everyone else behind you will do their job,” Dean said. “This defense, we always find another gear. We’re always flying around. If a team gets a big play on us, we come back and stop it right there.”
Brockport ranks first in red zone defense (.143) and second in overall defense (186.0 yards per game). Each week, head coach Jason Mangone sees just how hard it is to go against that unit in practice.
“It’s really fun to watch, but I tell people all the time that the downside of our defense is that we have to face them in practice,” he said. “The combination of our talented players and what defensive coordinator Mike Fox and his assistants do — that’s hard for anyone to emulate in practice, given the speed they play with and the intensity and physicality they bring. It’s phenomenal. We tell our guys on offense that we’re not going to play against another defense as good as that.”
Dean leads the defensive line along with starters Terry McDonald and John Tucci. Linebackers Tim Terry, Alex West and Lawrence Jenkins join Szymanski in the starting lineup. However, the Golden Eagles have seen different players stand out each week. For instance, last Saturday, Terry had six tackles including 4.5 for a loss, while Jenkins had five tackles (three for loss) and two sacks. Dean and Szymanski both had 4.5 tackles apiece and combined for 1.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss two weeks ago.
“We have a lot of guys who can make plays. It’s nice to see someone new stand out each week,” Szymanski said. “Another cool thing about our defense is that guys get just as hyped up about another guy making a play. Seeing another guy get a sack gets everyone going. We just ride the momentum.
“Our main goal as a front seven is to stop the run. If we make a team one-dimensional, we have a good chance of being successful.”
|Cedric Campbell separates a St. Lawrence receiver from the ball.
Brockport athletics photo
With nowhere to go on the ground against the Golden Eagles, teams are forced to try through the air. That hasn’t worked out very well, either. Brockport is tied for ninth in the nation with 10 interceptions. Cornerback Rashad Baker leads the country with 13 passes defended.
“Something we pride ourselves in as coaches, we want to have the hardest part of our week be Monday-Friday. You want to have the most talent and I think it shows on Saturdays,” Mangone said. “We have guys and they are all hungry to be successful. They are self-driven and they really don’t care about who gets the credit as long as we are stopping people.”
The Golden Eagles’ offense benefits from the defense’s performance. Brockport, which has won its last 17 regular season games, ranks sixth in the country in scoring at 47.6 points per game.
“When we get the offense back out on the field, it’s a great feeling,” Dean said. “We know they are going to put up points.”
Brockport’s defensive prowess has one “drawback.”
“Some of our linemen complain about all the three-and-outs and not getting enough time to rest,” Szymanski said with a laugh. “Any chance we have to give the offense the ball, with the weapons we have, is big time for our game.”
“Last week, the worst spot on the field we got the ball was our own 40. So, we really didn’t have to go too far to score. At halftime, we had 48 points and only around 300 yards. It was all because of what the defense did to set us up in great field positon,” Mangone said. “When a defense is playing like that, you also get some peace of mind knowing you don’t have to score on every possession to win the game. We tell our guys that a punt is not a bad play when our defense will be going on the field.
“Overall, our offense is just trying to hold up its end of the bargain because our defense is absolutely incredible.”
The Golden Eagles hope to ride both their defense and offense to another deep postseason run this year.
“Every game, there’s always room for improvement. As each week goes on, we’re really improving and trying to get to that ball. It’s great to see how well we pick up things and progress,” Dean said. “We just want to ride this out. We take one team at a time, but we treat every game like it’s a playoff game.”