By DAN BROWN The Post sports writer
BRUNSWICK — A lot of coaches talk about how special their teams are, but Brian Williams means it.
After watching his squad bounce back from a tough loss to St. Edward, its first of the season, to then pu together a dramatic comeback in the closing seconds to win at Hudson, the Brunswick boys rugby coach has all the proof he needs that this group of Blue Devils are one of a kind.
“I’m extremely proud of our team after bouncing back from a big loss to St. Ed’s (52-7) to do defeat Hudson,” Williams said, referring to their 19-17 victory to improve to 5-1 on the spring. “We could have hung our heads when we were down 10-0, but they dug down deep and found a way. This year’s team is special.”
Down a player for the final 35 minutes of the match, Brunswick drove down the field as the time expired leading to junior Kareem Odeh diving over the try line to help the program lock up its first win in school history over the Explorers.
But the Devils have shown how explosive their team can be after opening the year with four straight victories, which included a thrilling 31-22 win over the Toledo Celtics.
A trio of senior veterans have led that charge in eight-man Logan Pratts, scrumhalf Antonio Angelino and second-row player Tom Knuff.
Angelino entered the final week of April as the leading scorer in the state with 57 total points, thanks to 19 conversion kicks and five tries. Pratts has six tries already this spring after tallying 11 en route to a 55-point season as a junior.
Combine that with Knuff’s ability to record key tackles and Brunswick could have all the firepower to make a deep postseason run.
“Their experience, leadership and playmaking abilities have been huge,” Williams said. “Pratts, only 175 pounds, regularly sheds tackles of 225-plus defenders and Angelino is extremely skilled with the ball and is our best ball handler.
“And I cannot underestimate the job Matt has done. He is the fittest kid on the team and just does not miss tackles.”
Senior flyhalf Kevin Gilhousen, who Williams has dubbed Mr. Fundamental, has produced after putting in extra time on his game this offseason. The coach also noted fellow 12th-grader Kenny Fritz and juniors Cameron Short and Odeh as others that have stepped up in the opening weeks. Short is the team’s second-leading scorer with 35 points.
Like the senior trio of Pratts, Angelino and Knuff, fellow returnees in seniors Matt Molnar and Matt Wolens at center and second row, respectively, along with sophomore second row/flaker Colin Sustersic.
Newcomers also have been strong, notably senior center Joey Pinzone and sophomore prop Adonovan Morman.
After capturing the D-II state championship in just its second season of existence last spring, Brunswick’s girls have moved up a division. But the expectations are the same.
With five players gone due to graduation, and a host of underclassman playing in key positions, the Devils’ season has been a work in progress.
“We’ve had a rough go with the new division,” said second-year coach Dan Prater, whose team opened the season 0-3. “Several factors have played into our slow start. A recent example was week three we played a strong Lakewood side with seasoned veterans, while (we) fielded a team with 10 underclassman.
“The girls have stayed committed and are still eager as ever. With each passing week, they gain experience and confidence and it’s only a matter of time before they breakout as a whole and become a competitive team in this league.”
Brunswick is led by a pair of senior captains, Alyssa Riedel and Alexis Barnes, and does return a number of other returnees in seniors Nicole Reiss, Brooke Hensley, juniors Carley Rayer, Andreya Kopy, Alliya Miller, Hannah Grosse and sophomores Tatum Siefer and Brittany Rodes.
Prater has also looked to newcomers to fill the caps from last year’s championship run. Senior Maddie Butrey, sophomores Skylar Rios, Kayla Conrad, freshman Sierra Moran, Katie Kreeger and Areil Zuber all are picking up the sport quickly.