By Will LeBlond
Memories from the undefeated regular season from last fall are still fresh in the minds of the Groton Football team, but this year’s squad wants to reach new heights.
Two straight wins against the then defending state champion Tioga Tigers were the highlight of 2016, as those wins clinched them their undefeated regular season and a playoff win. After that, they fell in the Class D Section IV semifinals to Unatego/Franklin to end the year one win shy of a sectional title game berth.
After the emotional toll of winning a pair of barnburners in Groton at Ross Field against Tioga, it just wasn’t meant to be in the semifinals.
“I think what happened there is that we had just played two pretty good football games against Tioga,” said third-year head coach Tom Goddard. “We were healthy (for the Unatego game) but I think we might have gotten a little complacent after we beat the defending state champions twice in a row.”
After a long offseason, the Indians are reloaded and refocused. Arguably the biggest loss from last year’s team is the star running back duo of Dylan Cooper and Matt Gombas, which was known as “Thunder and Lightning” because of their quick and physical style. With the pair graduated, along with a huge senior class of an upwards of 20 players, there are some big shoes to fill.
“We lost a lot of size from last year, we’re probably 500 pounds lighter on the offensive line,” said senior quarterback Adam Cronk. “We’re trying to use our speed this year.”
Cronk could very well be one of those weapons on the ground; he was the backup QB last season to Daimon Shoemaker, but he was a starting defensive back last year and had been a running back since he started playing football in the 3rd grade. Seniors Cody Parr and Andrew Brown also expect to get plenty of carries for an Indian offense that had plenty of ground and pound during 2016, but could very well add another ripple as they deal with new skill position pieces.
“We might try to throw the ball a little bit more and open it up,” said Goddard. “The size that we have is impressive and we’ll try to line up and run over people.”
The line play for Groton will include a trio of seniors, led by John Garrow. The guard was described by assistant coach Eric Prior as their best returning offensive lineman and will be a member of the senior class that has one thing on their minds.
“Us seniors have big expectations this year,” said Cronk. “Our quote this year is ‘unfinished business’, we want vengeance. We want states.”
Groton players and coaches alike feel like they could have advanced further in last season’s sectional playoffs, which is where “unfinished business” stems from. Before they can think of Section IV glory, the Indians will follow the process to put themselves in good shape for postseason play.
“We prepare game-by-game, but the ultimate goal is to make the playoffs,” said Goddard. “If you don’t make the playoffs, you don’t have a chance. So, we’ll try to make the playoffs and then make things happen there.”
A success story of a team following that mantra comes from last season when Sidney just snuck into the Section IV playoffs as an 8th seed, but then rolled all the way to a berth in the state semifinals. With a new batch of seniors, the experience is there for this year’s Groton squad to make a playoff run, but they’re focused on what’s up next, not what’s down the road.
“We always preach one game at a time, it’s like a ladder,” said Goddard. “At the top of the ladder is a state championship, but you can’t get there without stepping up the rungs.”
The first rung on the ladder is a September 1 season-opener on the road against Spencer-Van Etten/Candor and then they will return to Groton and Ross Field to take on Greene on September 8.