Clayton – The last time the Browns football team made it this far in the state playoffs, current head coach Doug Black was an assistant coach with the team.
The Blacks were in their third year of coaching under the late Steve Fisher, and that season in 2010 the Lions advanced all the way to the state title game.
“It was amazing,” Black recalls. “The great thing about it is that I always preach to kids is ‘make memories’ and it was guys on this team that I see to this day and when we cross paths we still talk about the 2010 season and remember things that happened during that season.
“That’s why we preach to these kids that they make memories — because all these things that go on in those two weeks are going to be remembered by these kids for the rest of their lives.”
General Brown (10-1) meets Section 6 champion Lackawanna (12-0) in the Division III state semifinals Saturday noon at Union Endicott High School.
“It feels great to have my family here with me,” Lions senior Caleb Natalie said, gesturing to his teammates during Tuesday’s practice at Thousand Islands High School. “We’ve been through a lot, from pair training to the entire regular season and now this, it’s great.”
Black sees a lot of similarities between 2010 and 2022.
“I see a lot of similarities with this year’s team,” said Black. “This team was very unselfish, they were kind of like-minded, business-like and they didn’t really care who scored or who got yards and anything like that, as long as they won. And that’s kind of the identity that this team has taken on, there’s no player” I On this team, it’s all about the team and it’s really ironic that there are similar personalities between the 2010 team and this year’s team.”
General Brown continues to forge his own legacy.
“We came together as a family and just got close,” said Seamus Devine, a Lions senior. “We all play for each other and want the best for everyone, so I think that helps us as a team.”
The Lions opened a close game in the second half en route to defeating Waverly, then the highest-ranked team in the state, 29-14, to win the state quarterfinals last Saturday night at Cicero Stadium north of Syracuse.
Fullbacks Natalie and Gabe Malcolm and linebacker Devine and linebacker Aiden McManaman each rushed for touchdowns, with McManaman getting the go-ahead in the third quarter and Devine adding his own touchdown in the final quarter.
“We did a good job hanging on the ball offensively,” Black said. “With time of possession, I think we’ve held the ball for over 34 minutes. I think we’ve run 78 plays compared to 33 plays.”
“Saturday was really great,” Natalie said. “It was a great feeling, we’re one of the few General Brown teams that’s been successful here, so it’s great to keep playing.”
General Brown, ranked No. 6 in the state in Class C, is enjoying his ride through the state playoffs, despite maintaining an all-business approach.
“I’m amazed at these kids, as if no moment is too big for them,” said Black. “You can preach enough, they just go out there and play. And they don’t really think like it’s a regional game or think about who their opponent was or where they’re seeded.”
“We just try to stay in the moment, when we can,” Malcolm said earlier in the postseason. “I think we are at our best when we play like this.”
Natalie, who has rushed for 1,205 yards and 17 touchdowns this season and Malcolm (1,035 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns), led the ground game, along with Devin (894 yards, 11 touchdowns).
McManaman rushed for 530 yards and five touchdowns while throwing for 755 yards and seven scores.
“It’s the same all year long,” 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’re so selfless and they each have their big games and last week it was time Sheamus really shines and he got a lot of yardage between tackles.”
“We want everyone to be involved and everyone should be involved,” Devin said. “So one person can make a play and if he goes down, but someone else will help him carry the load, and that’s how we did it.”
Gen Brown, who yielded only two touchdowns to Waverly, now allowed 120 points in 11 games.
“They were an amazing team,” Lions senior linebacker Armondo Orsese said of Waverly. “It was a good feeling for the team, all the work we put in is starting to pay off. We now know we have to play better this week.”
The Lions won six straight games after losing 30-27 to the Adirondacks on October 7.
“I think they always say the team takes the identity of their coach,” said Black. “And I’ve never been a see-saw guy, I just take a business-like approach and I think our kids have. They don’t go too high or too low during a game, they just come out and run and that’s great.”
What this team lacks in physical stature, Natalie said, they make up for in heart and determination.
“It’s true,” he said, “we’re probably not the greatest team General Brown has ever had.” “We may be one of the smaller ones. But we work well together and that’s all we need.”
The Lions didn’t discover their semifinal opponent until Lackawanna defeated Division V Attica, 14-6, in the state quarterfinals held in Batavia on Tuesday night.
“We’ve been really focused on what we’re doing,” Black said. “We went through our game tape against Waverly and just tried to fix the mistakes we made and tried to keep getting one percent better every day.”
Black traveled to watch that game just as he did to watch Waverley win the Division 4 championship game.
“Lackawanna I’m kind of compared to a Dutch Pat, they’ll throw the ball, they’ll run the ball, they’ll do a little bit of everything,” Black said.
Entering Tuesday, senior William Jeshel has passed for 1,296 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season, while rushing for two touchdowns.
The Steelers’ two top receivers, Sheheim Smalls and Ashlynn Alexander, both seniors, have caught nine and seven touchdown passes, respectively.
Meanwhile, Antoine Threts, who totaled 950 yards on the ground and sophomore Amir Douglas (418 rushing yards), ran for four touchdowns this season heading into their final game.
“It’s great, we just have to do what we do,” Orcesi said of his team’s style of defense. “We can’t let pressure get to us, if we just do what we’re doing, it should work.”
General Brown was fortunate to be able to practice on the Thousand Islands turf, which is so clear now that his field was buried by last weekend’s blizzard.
“Our coach is really good at putting us in difficult situations (in training) all season and making us better with the uncomfortable and that has helped us all season,” said Devine.
The Lions were also scheduled to train during the week in preparation for their semi-final opponents on Saturday.
“It’s about teamwork and family, that’s all we are,” Natalie added.