Football Bruins set for showdown with Taft
Something certainly has to give when Brunswick School and Taft School tangle on Saturday in a much-anticipated Erickson League showdown.
Three teams are still undefeated in the Erickson League, with the Bruins, who are celebrating their Homecoming, and Rhinos being two of them. Including Saturday’s 3 p.m. matchup, there are still five regular-season games remaining, but it’s not too early for teams to get the upperhand in race for the league’s top spot.
“It’s a very important game, they all are,” Brunswick coach Jarrett Shine said. “You can’t lose more than two games and have a shot at making the postseason. Two 4-0 teams on our turf on our Homecoming, with a lot of alumni watching — it should be an exciting game.”
Brunswick (4-0, 3-0 Erickson League), which registered a 34-21 road triumph against Taft in 2017, is coming off a convincing 29-7 victory over host Kent School — a game that saw the Bruins intercept three more passes, recover a fumble and limit the Lions to 195 total yards. Through four games, the Bruins have amassed 13 interceptions with junior defensive back Liam Fairback leading the charge with six.
The Bruins’ defense, which has been a turnover-causing machine so far, must be especially effective against a Taft team that’s scored more than 30 points in each one of its games. Coached by Tyler Whitley (a 2004 Taft graduate), the Rhinos topped Trinity-Pawling a week ago, 36-20. Senior quarterback Nolan Groomes threw a pair of touchdown passes to junior Diante Vines for Taft, which returned a key fumble 88 yards for a touchdown in its win against Trinity-Pawling.
“It’s going to take a lot for us to stop them,” Shine said. “Mike Hannigan (Bruins’ defensive coordinator) had done a good job of putting the game plan together against a really good Taft team. Their quarterback is going to Princeton to play football, we’ve played against him the past two years and he has gotten better. They have a running back who has explosive speed — they are talented overall.”
Grooms has completed 69 percent of his passes (47-68) for the season, with nine touchdowns and just three interceptions. Showing that he’s a dual threat, he’s also rushed for 336 yards. Junior Teely Rhyne has paced Taft’s running attack (494 yards on 70 carries).
Behind linebackers Nick Villis and David MacGillivray, defensive lineman Howard Powell and Fairback in the secondary, the Bruins have allowed a mere 38 points over their first four games — a trend they hope continues during their Homecoming on Saturday.
“Taft throws in some interesting formations, like flex formations,” said MacGillivray, a junior. “Stopping the run is always a big part of our game plan, so we have to do that once again against Taft. We haven’t been letting teams put up many points, because everyone on our defense has been stepping up. If we can stop the run, we’ll be in good shape.”
Offensively, Brunswick has fared well with junior Nick Winegardner at quarterback. He’s connected with senior star wide receiver Cornelius Johnson for big plays numerous times and has used his speed and shiftiness to gain yards on the ground. Junior running back Jalen Madison has given the Bruins’ offense a boost. He rushed for a season-high 182 yards in Brunswick’s victory at Kent last week and has consistently churned out tough yards on the ground each game. Meanwhile, Johnson’s made clutch, game-changing catches each week for the Bruins.
Though the Bruins have excelled each week, it hasn’t begun games especially strong, an aspect Shine knows the team must improve upon starting Saturday.
“We have to start strong, we can’t afford to get off to slow starts against teams like Taft,” Shine said. “We must be able to move the ball offensively and be balanced and on defense, we have to wrap-up and tackle. This is the toughest test our defense is going to face so far. Taft has a pretty dynamic offense, so we have to play mistake-free football on both sides of the ball.”