It was cold, the temperature was somewhere in the 40s, but instead of getting angry that he was suddenly drenched with water the New Utrecht’s head coach Alan Balkan saw it as the perfect time to take a bath outdoors.
“I don’t care,” said a soaking wet Balkan after his team dumped a cooler of water on him to celebrate clinching the playoffs. “I am willing to get dunked in a 20 degree day. It means that we’re hitting our goals and playing late into the season. This is a great feeling.”
It should have been a close game, but it wasn’t. New Utrecht blew out Midwood 38-12 at the Midwood Athletic Complex on Saturday, improved to 6-2 on the season and, more importantly, can focus on even bigger goals the rest of the season.
“This was a big step for us, but we’re looking to finish 7-2 and maybe get a No. 7 or 8 seed in the playoffs,” Utes lineman Kadeen Dryden said. “Our next goal is to get a home playoff game.”
It’s a good goal and one that is not only obtainable, but one that would cap an unlikely season for the Utes, who were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season and were just 1-8 two seasons ago.
“Personally I thought that we would have a good year,” Dryden said. “We’ve had a couple of loses to Lincoln and Flushing because we weren’t prepared enough, but overall we’ve been very strong and we’re just getting better.”
The Utes started off this season with a somewhat surprising win over John F. Kennedy in Week 1. They followed that up with another impressive win against Canarsie and were 3-0 before they experienced their first loss of the year to Lincoln. The following week they lost an extremely disappointing game to Flushing to drop to 3-2 and that served as a wakeup call.
The problem was that the loss to Lincoln was a bit demoralizing and the next week when many of the team’s players came down with a stomach virus many players saw it as an excuse to skip practice, even the players that weren’t sick, Balkan said. After getting shutout by a team they should be playing with players realized they needed to increase their commitment.
“They saw what happens when we don’t practice well enough,” Balkan said. ” Since then it’s been practice, practice, practice. Our practices have been excellent the past three weeks. We’re practicing like a football team, like men. We’re going back to the basics, we’re hitting the sled again. Focusing on defense and going back to basics.”
The following week the Utes came out with a strong 30-12 victory over Jefferson and that has now snowballed into a three-game winning streak.
“We’re mentally focused right now,” said quarterback Richard Wright. “After the Lincoln game everybody was down, but we came back with three wins in a row.”
It’s going to be tough for any teams in the entire city to knock off either Lincoln or Erasmus Hall in the playoffs, but New Utrecht has emerged as one of the rare few teams with the capability because of their incredible depth.
Wright has been an excellent playmaker for them at quarterback. His arm isn’t the best in the borough, but with Vonn Grant and Michael Velasquez as the receivers they do have potential to make the occasional big play. Wright also has tremendous speed which he can utilize like he did against Midwood when he peeled off a 90-yard touchdown run that completely changed the momentum of the game.
“I feel like, Richard makes big plays every week,” said running back Jaleel Brown. “He’s a playmaker. He’s always capable of big plays that always seem to rally us.”
Then, of course, there is Brown who has 993 yards rushing this season with 13 touchdowns. He’s one of the most effective runners in the entire city.
On defense, the Utes are led by Dryden, a junior who has quietly put together an impressive season with seven sacks and 44 tackles. “He’s 6-5 and 265 pounds, he’s got fast feet and great hands. He’s gotten better as the season goes on and I’m sure that he’s going to get a lot of looks from schools,” Balkan raved.
Those three players make up the core of Utrecht’s team, but there are plenty of talented players surrounding them as well including Grant, Velasquez, Alex Boston, Dayquan Russell, and even Angelo Carrera, who has become a goal-line quarterback which allows Wright to play at his most effective position of wide receiver.
“I think the team is definitely stronger than last year,” Brown said. “We have depth, playmakers and discipline. I feel like we can really make a run this year. That’s what the ultimate goal is.”