PHS, Taconic set to play on gridiron
Photo Gallery | Taconic and PHS football teams prepare for playoffs
PITTSFIELD — Coaches at every level strive to build a successful program. A program is built when everyone — from the training staff to the assistant coaches — is preaching the same message, with a singular goal in mind. Heading into tonight's Western Massachusetts Division V semifinal at Wahconah Park, the Pittsfield Generals and Taconic Braves are setting out to prove they're building sustainable football programs on both sides of the city.
At this time last year, Taconic was a struggling team, preparing for a consolation game. Throughout the two-win campaign, the size of the team shrunk. A roster that's now at about 50 players finished at half that size a year ago.
"They were like 'the games didn't matter, so why should I be here,'" junior receiver Zach Gage said. "No one believed in us last year."
Taconic and Pittsfield will play in a D-V semifinal tonight at 7. The winner plays the winner of tonight's game between Frontier Regional and Hooasc Valley.
Despite losing some players along the way, the current core of Taconic's team stuck together.
"Football is different, because when you're losing it's not just mentally, you're physically getting beat up," junior quarterback Jake McNeice said. "I respect everyone that stuck with it. I really think that they're my brothers now because they went through that with me."
Taconic coach Jim Ziter knew his young core had postseason potential, and credits seniors Matt Johnston, Damien Armstrong and David MacIntosh for getting their classmates excited about Taconic football.
"The whole group of the kids that are with me, they sold the program," Ziter said. "They got the numbers up. The kids are staying and we've got a ton of freshman. The kids that stuck it out, they really built the program themselves."
Across town, Pittsfield coach Brian Jezewski is no stranger to the rebuilding process. Pittsfield went 0-10 in Jezewski's first season in 2008. The Generals went 8-31 over four years, but they finally broke through with a Western Mass Division V title last season.
"Years ago when we took over, the plan was to stay consistent, build the program and stay with our philosophies," Jezewski said. "We've been fortunate enough to have a group of guys that have bought in to what we're doing. Our strength and conditioning program is fantastic and on par with anybody else's."
The growth and consistency is evident when looking at the pieces Pittsfield replaced from last year's team. The Generals have new players at the skill positions, in addition to players taking expanded roles on defense. Kolbe Muzzy moved from receiver to quarterback, replacing Chad Shade. The trio of Edwin Rodriguez, Sam Sala and Mason Papirio replaced running back Devon Tucker's production.
With a D-V title under their belts, linebacker Shane Cronin said he can use the experience of last year's playoff run to control his nerves and help calm the younger players on the team.
"I try to tell everybody to go at it like its any other game," he said. "It can be hard, but if you keep your head on straight and not let the stuff in your head get to you, it will be a lot easier for you and your team."
A Pittsfield win could get football fans in the county to associate the team with current power programs Hoosac Valley and Wahconah. A Taconic win will be a high point for a program making its first postseason appearance in more than 20 years.
Regardless of the winner, the state of football in Pittsfield seems to be trending upward. Two years after the St. Joseph football program folded, a city team will make the Western Mass. final for the second straight year.
Jezewski said he continues to feel the community support for his rising program.
"We've got a big support system, and that reaches way beyond us and the program," he said. "The community has been very, very supportive of us from day one — regardless of where we are in the standings."