This week’s Q&A Poland’s Mark Brungard

In the playoffs for the last six seasons, Poland High won in the first round for the first time since 2009 with a 38-0 romp over Marlington.

The victory avenged regular season losses to the Dukes the past three seasons, including a 10-3 defeat in the season opener this year.

That was one of three losses in 2012 for coach Mark Brungard’s squad which narrowly slipped into the eighth and final playoff spot in Division III, Region 11

Q. How did the season go as far as goals were concerned? Did you meet the goals you set at the start of the season?

A. Our goal is to go 1-0 every week. We finished 7-3 so we can’t say we met that goal. We did not win the league and we did not beat Howland and Niles. Getting into the playoffs is a big deal, giving you a chance to win a state championship, so that goal is met.

The team got better as the season went on and you want to see that as a coach. You want them to learn from success and failure and to handle adversity. It prepares them for things they will see later in life, so we feel good about that. Through the adversity they stuck together and didn’t point fingers, so from that standpoint goals were met.

In the first round of the playoffs we got revenge against Marlington, a team that has beaten us for the last few years, so the goal to get into the second round was met.

Q. Did you see consistent progress throughout the course of the season? Did you like the improvement your team made?

A. We had some ups and downs. We lost in Week 4 and Week 7 and I felt we responded the right way after each one. We found a way to win after each loss and I feel we are playing our best football right now.

Q. Was there a point following any of the losses when you were concerned that you might not make the playoffs?

A. It ended up very, very close and we had to have some things outside of our control go our way. After the Howland game I don’t want to say we had questions or doubts, but at that point we had lost our third game and our playoff destiny was out of our hands, we needed some help. That is frustrating going into Weeks 8, 9 and 10 and playing well but knowing we might not make the playoffs.

Q. Did you like how your kids responded to the losses?

A. With this group that has never been an issue. We have a strong senior group and they have played on teams with good leadership. In round one of the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 we bowed out in close losses and this group going in wanted to do better than that and advance toward a state championship. They prepared all season for that and they led like that through the wins and losses.

Leadership is really tested in adversity, when you lose, and this group never flinched. They kept us focused and together and made it fun. The locker room was never a bad environment, there was never any finger-pointing.

Our captains, voted by the team, were Mike Turnbull, Anthony Kosec, Anthony Marchionda, Shane Evan and Alex Hubbell. But those five would never separate themselves from the rest of their peers. You have to have it on all levels, the seniors supporting the captains and spreading the right attitude throughout the team. It is a group effort.

Q. Did making the playoffs the previous five seasons help this group get to that goal?

A. It is something we talk about more in the off season and in preseason. We talk about the tradition that has been established and the responsibility that goes with that tradition, how you train and prepare for the season. It’s not going to happen just showing up in August, you earn it in the off season in weight lifting and speed training and in the summer in conditioning. A team with Poland on its schedule has a game they know they have to shoot for and because of that we have to train hard.

There is also the attitude of each group trying to better the previous team or year or class. The kids come in and want to set themselves apart. This group, for example, had the idea that making the playoffs was not enough, they wanted to advance and go on, trying to better the performance of the previous season. That is a good mindset to have for a program.

Q. What challenges does this week’s opponent, Dover, present?

A. They have been here before, they’ve been in four regional championship games in a row. They have lost them all so they are a hungry bunch of kids trying to get to the next level, to play in a state semifinal. Coach (Dan) Ifft has been there a long time and the team is very prepared. They put pressure on your defense with their empty spread offense and they move the ball from side to side and down the field with really good athletes. Their defensive front is the best we’ve seen all season. The challenge for our offensive line is to win that battle and keep Dover off the field. We have to stay on the field, move the chains, get first downs, score in the red zone and keep the Dover offense on the sideline.

Doug Chapin, The Vindicator

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