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Boys & Girls finding its place among elite

The Brooklyn Paper
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Barry O’Connor didn’t want to just win games when he returned to Boys & Girls in 2002. The football coach, in his second go-around at the Brooklyn school, had visions of turning the Kangaroos into a city power. So even though Boys made the 16-team city playoffs in 2004 and 2005, O’Connor wasn’t satisfied.

His squad, then a Level 3 team, was exposed against 5’s, losing in the opening round of the playoffs by a combined 43 points.

“The competition,” he said, “was a different level of competition we were used to.”

So, after consulting with his coaching staff and returning players, O’Connor requested that Boys be moved up to Level 5. On Saturday, the 10th-seeded Kangaroos upset No. 5 Sheepshead Bay, 28-22, to reach the PSAL semifinals.

“This is something that when I came back we had in mind,” O’Connor said. “We always felt that we wanted to be in position where we were competing against the better programs in the city. That’s been the goal from the beginning. To some extent, we’ve accomplished that. But it’s not over yet.”

Boys nearly blew a 20-point halftime lead, built on two Wilbert Lee touchdowns – a 39-yard reception and 15-yard interception return – and quarterback Evan Rugel’s keeper. Sheepshead came storming back in the second half with 22 unanswered points, taking the lead with 2:40 remaining.

With precious time left and the Sharks having shut down Boys’ run-heavy attack by stacking nine and sometimes 10 defenders in the box, O’Connor went to the air. Rugel hit Lee on a swing route that the sophomore turned into a 25-yard pick up and later hit Ishon Mitchell for the game-winning score from 16 yards out.

O’Connor credited the last two years, and even two frustrating losses against playoffs team JFK and Sheepshead, as the reason Boys was able to come out on top. They had experienced losing so many close games it has taught them how to win them, he said.

“It took some time until we started pulling those games out,” he said. “The game we won yesterday is the game we’ve lost so many times.”

Of the four semifinalists, three of them – Port Richmond, Fort Hamilton and Susan Wagner – would be considered traditional powers. Port Richmond has made the semifinals the last three seasons while Fort Hamilton won back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006. Boys (8-3), meanwhile, who visits the No. 1 Red Raiders next Saturday, was an afterthought when the season began, and even before the playoffs.

“As a coaching staff, we felt we definitely made a statement,” O’Connor said. “But I don’t know about arriving. We basically set our own standards. We really don’t have to wait for anybody to dub us as arriving. It really doesn’t matter. All I know is there are four teams still standing and we’re one of them.”

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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