Old Rochester back in the biggest game
FOXBOROUGH — On the silver anniversary of its lone Super Bowl championship, the only detail on the mind of the Old Rochester football team is gold.
The trip to Gillette Stadium for the Bulldogs (11-0) comes 25 seasons after the program’s win over East Bridgewater in the 1993 EMass Division 4A Super Bowl, and one season after a disappointing loss to Middleborough in the Division 6 South final.
It comes in the fourth season of Justin Kogler’s tenure as head coach at the regional school in Mattapoisett. As Old Rochester prepares to take on Stoneham (10-1) in the Division 6 Super Bowl at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Kogler reflected on this year’s journey for the Bulldogs during the MIAA Football State Championship Breakfast on Tuesday.
“I knew we’d have a shot to get there again,” Kogler said. “I thought we’d certainly be in the mix, but you never expect to quite get here.”
Old Rochester returned 16 starters in all from last year’s team, including running back Will Garcia. He had accumulated over 1,400 rushing yards as a junior, and the sky seemed to be the limit for him as a senior co-captain.
But an ankle injury in Week 3 cost him a chunk of his final foray as a Bulldog and nearly derailed it all together. Rather than opting for surgery immediately, Garcia sat out six games before returning for the stretch run.
The decision was fully justified in Old Rochester’s Thanksgiving Eve win over Apponequet, when Garcia shed all signs of rust with 184 yards on the ground to go along with three touchdowns in the tuneup for Gillette.
“If I’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity like this, I’m definitely going to take it,” Garcia said. “It was a difficult decision, but in the end I feel like the memories that are going to be made from this day are going to be much greater than that of sitting out.”
Garcia said he’ll undergo surgery on his ankle four days after the Super Bowl.
Though none of the current seniors played on the varsity team as a freshman in Kogler’s first season, the class still shares a bond with their coach, one that’s only been strengthened as the Bulldogs ascend to heights they haven’t seen in a generation.
“It means a lot because I’ve seen what they were like as freshmen, and I see them now,” Kogler said. “They’ve grown so much as football players and as people.”
Said senior quarterback Cole McIntyre: “We’ve developed more of a relationship with coach because he was trying to fit in, starting off his coaching career at Old Rochester and make a name for himself. We’re coming up with him and trying to do the same for ourselves. We bonded over that, and the whole team just developed together.”
Kogler knows what it’s like to be on the losing end of a Super Bowl from his days as a player at Durfee, when the Hilltoppers lost to BC High in 2000. The best message he can give his current team is to soak it all in this week and prepare as best they can — and the rest will take care of itself.
“I tell the kids it’s something special and something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” Kogler said. “Really enjoy the week, prepare the best that you can all week long, and whatever the outcome, as long as we go out there and work as hard as we can, we’ll be happy with it.”