With two games remaining in its regular season, the Brunswick School football team knows exactly what it must do to qualify for the postseason.
If they win their remaining two games, they will earn a NEPSAC Championship bowl bid. A loss in one of their final two games — well, then the Bruins would need some help in order to extend their season.
So Saturday’s 3 p.m. showdown against Erickson League rival Trinity-Pawling School (Pawling, N.Y.) at Cosby Field has serious implications for the Bruins, who are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Erickson League. Avon Old Farms, which pulled out a come-from-behind 35-28 overtime win against Brunswick last week, is 6-0 in the Erickson League.
“We need this game, we can’t afford any more losses,” Brunswick coach Mike Hannigan said. “We started the year, the first four weeks, with three non-league games. Since then our schedule has been back-loaded with league games, so each one is a huge game and every single one of these games has been a rivalry game. “We’ve had a great history of games with Trinity-Pawling over the years — some wild games.”
Indeed, the Bruins and Pride have taken turns dealing each other tough losses since the past several seasons. Brunswick helped solidify a NEPSAC Bowl bid with a 22-3 win over Trinity-Pawling in 2018 and in 2017, the Pride kept the Bruins from making the postseason by posting a 40-35 victory in Brunswick’s second-to-last game of the season.
Trinity-Pawling won the first six games between the two squads and holds an 8-4 series advantage, since 2007, but Brunswick has won four of the last six meetings.
“There have been some great games involving Trinity-Pawling over the years, some crazy games,” Hannigan said. “I remember one year, before they had lights on their field up at Trinity-Pawling, we were throwing the ball a lot and we were finishing the game in the dark, we didn’t know who was catching the ball.”
The Bruins enter the game off their stinging overtime loss to Avon Old Farms School before their Homecoming crowd at Cosby Field last week. Brunswick held leads of 21-7 and 28-14, before the Winged Beavers stormed back, forced overtime and scored on their first possession of the extra quarter.
“Our team is still disappointed about that game, but they are focused on Trinity-Pawling,” Hannigan said. “You are disappointed until you start practicing and they make be thinking about it a little bit, it’s tough for that disappointment to go away.”
Still, the Bruins had a productive week of practice, according to Hannigan and are eager to get back on the winning track in their final home game of their 2019 campaign. Trinity-Pawling (3-3, 2-3 Erickson League) is fresh off two straight league losses in games they could have won. The Pride, who could be playing for a postseason berth, had one or two plays gone their way in each game, lost to Salisbury last week, 26-23, and was edged by Hotchkiss School, 35-34, two weeks ago.
Traditionally a physical team with size, the Pride are know for their effective running game and efficient offense. Senior quarterback Kyle Bicho completed 15 of 18 passes for 163 yards for Trinity in last week’s loss to Salisbury, while Marquese Ward-Morning was a running and receiving threat.
“You have to be physical against them, they are going to run counters and mis-direction and they will try to control the field and the clock,” Hannigan said. “They’ll lull you to sleep with three, or four-yard plays, then pop one for 40, or 30 yards for a touchdown, so being disciplined on every down is crucial. Our safeties have to be especially disciplined.”
The Bruins hope to bring the same efficiency it showed last week offensively into Saturday’s matchup.
Senior quarterback Nick Winegardner passed for 258 yards with three touchdown passes. Winegardner’s favorite targets to throw to last week were senior wide receivers Bernard Zoungrana and Kevonne Wilder. Zoungrana had 125 receiving yards and had two touchdown receptions, while Wilder totaled 94 yards receiving. Senior tight end Rocco DiChiara also caught a scoring strike from Winegardner.
“Avon take away our running game a little bit and Bernard had a monster day,” Hannigan said. “I thought we did a good job of adapting and adjusting to what they were doing defensively.”
Hanning has been pleased with what he’s seen from the team’s offensive line, which includes Howard Powell, Michael Burton, Cliff Belknap, Miles Walker, Steve Kondas and George Hill.
“They are a big reason why Jalen Madison (team’s leading rusher) has been able to run for 100 yards per week,” Hannigan said. “We are lucky to have six or seven guys that are ready to play on our offensive line.”
As in years past, Saturday’s game between the Bruins and Pride should be a back-and-forth battle.
“Our defense has to limit Trinity’s big plays and play sound, assignment football,” Hannigan said. “On offense, we have to stay on schedule and avoid negative yardage plays. Just staying on schedule offensively is important.”
And if the Bruins win Saturday, they will be on schedule to earn a postseason berth.