CLAYTON — The last time General Brown’s football made it this far into the state playoffs, current head coach Doug Black was an assistant coach on the team.
Black was in his third year as coach under the late Steve Fisher, and that 2010 season saw the Lions advance to state title contention.
“It was great,” Black recalled. “The great thing is that I always preach to the kids ‘Make memories’ and those were young men on that team that I see to this day and when we cross paths we still talk about that 2010 season and we remember remember the things that happened this season.
“That’s why we preach to these kids that they create memories — because all of those things that happen in those two weeks, these kids are going to remember for the rest of their lives.”
General Brown (10-1) will take on Section 6 Champion Lackawanna (12-0) in a Class C state semifinals Saturday noon at Union Endicott High School.
“It feels great to have my family right here with me,” said Lions senior Kaleb Natali while gesturing to his teammates during Tuesday’s practice at Thousand Islands High School. “We’ve been through so much, from doubles (training) to the whole regular season and now this, it’s just great.”
Black sees many parallels between 2010 and 2022.
“I see a lot of similarities with this year’s team,” Black said. “This team was very selfless, they were kind of equal, a businesslike mentality and they didn’t really care who scored or who was getting the yards and stuff like that as long as they were winning. And that’s kind of the identity that this team has taken on, there aren’t really “me” guys on this team, it’s all about the team and it’s really ironic that it’s between the 2010 team and this year’s team there are such similar personalities. ”
General Brown continues to forge his own legacy.
“We grew together as a family and became even closer,” said Lions senior Sheamus Devine. “We all play for each other and want the best for everyone else, so I think that helps us as a team.”
The Lions opened up a tight second-half game en route to defeating Waverly, then the state’s top-ranked team, 29-14 to win the state quarterfinals last Saturday night in Cicero-North Syracuse.
Running backs Natali and Gabe Malcolm, fullback Devine, and quarterback Aiden McManaman each rushed for a touchdown, with McManaman scoring the go-ahead score in the third quarter and Devine adding his touchdown in the final quarter.
“We did a good job staying on the ball offensively,” said Black. “In terms of possession time, I think we held the ball for over 34 minutes. I think we did 78 games versus their 33.
“Saturday was really nice,” said Natali. “It felt great, we’re one of the few General Brown teams that made it here so it’s great to still be playing.”
General Brown, No. 6 in the state in Class C, is enjoying his ride through the state playoffs while maintaining his all-business approach.
“I’m just amazed by these kids, how no moment is too big for them,” Black said. “You can preach it enough, they just go out and play. And they don’t really think about the fact that it’s a regional game or think about who their opponent was or where they were ranked.”
“We’re just trying to stay in the moment if we can,” Malcolm said earlier in the postseason. “I think we’re at our best when we play like that.”
Natali, who has rushed for 1,205 yards and 17 touchdowns this season, and Malcolm (1,035 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns) have been leading the ground game along with Devine (894 yards, 11 touchdowns).
McManaman has rushed for 530 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 755 yards and seven points.
“It’s the same as all year,” Black said. “Both Gabe and Kaleb are over 1,000 yards and Sheamus is right behind them, he’ll probably hit 1,000 this week. I can’t say enough about all these guys they are just selfless and everyone has their big games and this past week it’s been Sheamus’ time to really shine and he’s buffed a lot of yards between tackles.”
“We want everyone to be involved and everyone should be involved,” Devine said. “That’s how a person can make a game and if he goes down, but someone else will help him and carry the load and that’s how we succeed.”
General Brown, who gave only two touchdowns to Waverly, now allowed 120 points in 11 games.
“They were a great team,” Lions senior lineman Armondo Orcesi said of Waverly. “It felt good for the team, all the work we put in is starting to pay off. Now we know we have to play even better this week.”
The Lions have won six straight games after suffering a 30-27 loss in Adirondack on Oct. 7.
“I think they always say that the team adopts their coach’s identity,” Black said. “And I’ve never been a rah-rah guy, I just go businesslike and I think our kids did that. They don’t really get too high or too low during the game, they just go out there and execute them and that’s great.”
Natali said what this team lacks in physique they make up for in heart and determination.
“Granted, we’re probably not the greatest team that’s ever been at General Brown,” he said. “We are probably one of the smallest. But we work well together and that’s all we need.”
The Lions only found out their state semifinal opponent when Lackawanna defeated Section 5’s Attica 14-6 in a state quarterfinal played in Batavia on Tuesday night.
“We just really focused on what we’re doing,” Black said. “We’ve been going through our game tape against Waverly and we’re just trying to fix the mistakes we’ve made and just trying to get one percent better every day.”
Black traveled to see that game, just as he did to see Waverly’s victory in the Section 4 championship game.
“I kind of compare Lackawanna to a Dutch patent, they’re going to throw the ball, they’re going to run the ball, they’re going to do a little bit of everything,” Black said.
As of Tuesday’s start, William Gechell, a senior, had rushed for 1,296 yards and 25 touchdowns this season while scoring two points.
The Steelers’ top two receivers, Shyheim Smalls and Ashlin Alexander, both seniors, had caught nine and seven touchdown passes, respectively.
Meanwhile, elder Antwan Threeths, who had 950 total rushing yards, and second-in-command Amir Douglas (418 rushing yards) each rushed for four touchdowns en route to their last game this season.
“It’s great, we just have to do what we do,” Orcesi said of his team’s approach to defence. “We mustn’t let the pressure get to us if we just do what we do if it works.”
General Brown was fortunate to be able to train on the Thousand Islands turf field, which is now vacant as his own field was buried by last weekend’s snowstorm.
“Our coach is really good at putting us in difficult situations (in practice) all season and making us better when we’re uncomfortable and that’s helped us throughout the season,” Devine said.
The Lions were also scheduled to practice throughout the week in preparation for Saturday’s semifinal opponents.
“It’s about teamwork and family, that’s all we are,” added Natali.