Talk about your first impressions.
South Brunswick High School football head coach who stepped down due to health concerns after guiding the Vikings to a school record 10-1 season in 2011.
But he also knew he was taking over a team loaded with talent, which was on full display Saturday when SBHS won the first football state championship in school history with a 33-22 win in the Group V title game over previously unbeaten Manalapan.
"It was a great year and a special thrill whenever you can get to a big game like that," Goerge said. "The way the team stayed together all year made it really special. These seniors were on their third coach in four years and they responded really well. It was a magical ride the whole year, and to win the first championship in the history of the school made it really special."
Goerge had the unique challenge of taking over the program in June, which prevented him from having the full offseason to work with the players. But in the end, it came down to his extensive experience.
This was Goerge's 38th year in coaching, with 31 years spent as a head coach. Goerge previously guided Franklin to three state titles games, winning Group III championships in 1994 and 1996.
"I never did feel any pressure because I've been real good friends with (Rick Mantz) for a long time and I was able to get to three of their games last year," Goerge said. "He left the program in a great place. I felt the expectations were high here and that's what we wanted. We wanted to be in a big situation and we certainly found that here in South Brunswick."
Making his third state championship even more special was the fact that two of Goerge's sons were part of his coaching staff. Michael works with the secondary and wide receivers, while Jason coaches the linebackers and offensive line.
"This is what you coach for, but for me this was so much more special with both of my sons on the staff," Goerge said. "I coached them when they were players and now I coach with them. I was thrilled to have them on the staff. The entire coaching staff did such a great job all year."
While the 2011 team rolled through the regular season undefeated before losing a tough game in the semi-finals, this year the Vikings dropped two games in the regular season. In addition, SBHS faced a couple of early games where they built up early leads before watching the opposition storm back in the second half.
Those character building wins would pay off against Manalapan, as the Vikings jumped out to a 13-0 lead before heading into halftime up 20-16.
"It's funny how that worked. We talk about finishing, so when Manalapan came back it's something that they've been through before and didn't panic," Goerge said. "It was just the opposite. They said we've been here and we can do this. That's something that speaks volumes about the way they performed in the championship game. We got up early and had a chance to score again before we turned the ball over. But there was no panic in the locker room. They came out and did what they had to do."
The Vikings also faced adversity off the field. Following a tough loss to Sayreville, Hurricane Sandy caused an extended layoff as the players had to deal with a disruption in their own lives. But once the Vikings got back on the field, they came out on fire winning four straight en route to the title.
"This team has been remarkably consistent and very even keeled. They don't get too high when they win or too low when they lose," Goerge said. "After the storm they hadn't played in three weeks. The way they came back speaks volumes about the type of players we had this year."
Goerge praised the leadership provided by the senior class of the Vikings. Players like T.J. Perkowski, T.J. Taylor, Dion Hooper, Alex Berkuta, Ken Drost, Conor Killmurray, Joe Baguchinsky and the rest of the seniors helped anchor the squad through the bitter end of last year and tough losses this year.
"I could go right down the line with the seniors as the guys who really held this team together," Goerge said. "When we came in, we said to those guys believe in us and the stuff we're doing because we believe in you. Your expectations are high and so are mine. A lot of that depends on seniors and they carried the load for us. They were the glue that held this team together and their performance was huge in all the big games."
Of course, there was also contributions from the underclassmen as well, like sophomore Dontae Strickland, who had a couple of huge plays for touchdowns in the title game. There was also the not so small contributions of a certain 240-pound junior running back, who etched his name into Vikings lore with a playoff performance for the ages.
"Dahrae Ford epitomizes the kind of team we have where he doesn't get all wrapped up in himself," Goerge said. "He comes to work everyday and he carried us in all three playoff wins."
In the three playoff victories over Manalapan, Old Bridge and Hillsborough, Ford amassed 419 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
"Everyone in the stadium knew Dahrae was getting the ball and he was still getting five or six yards a clip," Goerge said.
With stars like Ford and Strickland returning next year, Goerge knows the Vikings have a chance to pull off a special run, despite the talent on their way out the door.
"The young kids have the challenge to follow these seniors," he said. "I'm excited that after the winter break we'll start the offseason program, which is one thing we missed since I didn't start the job until June. This year we'll have a full off season and better preparation time. I'm excited and those guys are excited about what's ahead of them as well."