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Brown, Shinners honored in ‘normal’ year for Big 30

Brent Brown sowed the seeds for this seven months earlier.

Back in mid-April, his Randolph football team’s originally scheduled Week 3 matchup against Silver Creek/Forestville was canceled due to the latter’s pause for COVID-19. By mid-week, the young Cardinals had two options: Take what effectively would have been a bye or accept a contest against then-Class C power and reigning New York State Class D champion Clymer/Sherman/Panama.

Randolph, essentially, was already using the shortened spring campaign as a prelude for the full fall 2021 season. At that point, it was starting seven sophomores and four juniors and simply wanted game experience, in whatever capacity it came, as it began its push back to the top of the Class D crop.

And so, it happily chose to play the Wolfpack.

Brown’s team took its lumps that night, falling 25-6, and was baptized by fire throughout the spring, losing a pair of games to Franklinville/Ellicottville (once in the playoffs) by scores of 28-0 and 34-8. But it hung with CSP for a half, trailing just 13-6 at halftime, and only got better by challenging itself against quality competition.

“Honestly, it was really good for us,” Brown said that night. “Nobody likes to lose, but it was good for us to play them. We’re still young, we have seven sophomores out there. But it was a good opportunity, for sure.”

And in the end, the Cardinals achieved their goal, as this fall, Randolph was once again … Randolph.

BROWN’S team went a perfect 8-0 in the regular season, beating both F/E and No. 1-state ranked CSP, before again downing the Titans in the Section 6 Class D championship game. It finished an impressive 10-1 overall, its best year since winning three-straight NYS Class D crowns from 2012-14.

Randolph was the only Big 30 team to turn in an unbeaten regular season and the lone outfit to win either a sectional or district title. It peaked at No. 3 in the state rankings and finished the year No. 5, the highest among any team on the New York side of the Big 30 border. And for making good on his spring investment and returning Randolph to the prominent position it was in when he took over for Pat Slater in 2014, Brown was rewarded, winning the Alfred Joe Bunnell Memorial Award as the Big 30 Coach of the Year.

RANDOLPH’S revival felt like a return to normal. The Cardinals, after all, had become synonymous with postseason success about a decade earlier. And that’s exactly what the 2021 Big 30 football season was a whole … a return to normal.

A year ago, we wound up picking two different 22-player all-star teams, one each for New York and Pennsylvania, due to the fact those states staged their seasons six months apart. That came without the guidance of the stalwart Big 30 committee, which bowed out of last year’s process due primarily to the fact it was unable to watch games in person.

This year, however, with the committee back in place, we returned to choosing the traditional 30-player unit, representing both NY and PA — actually that number was 31, the first time it’s ever been that figure without a kicker due to there being a voting deadlock for the final spot. And we were able to hand our awards out in person for the first time since November of 2019.