The preseason outlook was one of cautious optimism for Western Maryland football fortunes. After all, the team had been 3-32 in its previous five Centennial Conference seasons.
Conference coaches picked the team for sixth in the eight-team league, but coach Dale Sprague had 16 returning starters. The only problem was they were starters from a 2-8 team, so who could tell how well they'd perform?
Through seven games, the Green Terrors have performed very well, thank you. There was a 28-25 loss to Gettysburg in the home opener, and a 14-14 tie at Randolph-Macon, but the other games have been wins. They will be home for non-conference member Lebanon Valley on Saturday, then will be home against Swarthmore and at Johns Hopkins in a pair of successive Centennial meetings.
Gettysburg might have been a clue, because a year ago, the Bullets had won, 62-20. A 14-3 win over Muhlenberg pushed Western Maryland over a hump, because last year the team was 2-1, then lost to the Mules, 28-13.
The Westminster school reached a pinnacle Saturday when it defeated Franklin & Marshall in Lancaster, Pa., 24-0. It had followed a 14-7 win over Dickinson, and the two losers were the dominant Centennial teams the past three years, combining for a record of 37-5.
Despite the back-to-back efforts and the resulting undisputed possession of first place, Sprague refused to allow his players to lose their focus. In the post-game, on-field huddle, he made sure they started thinking immediately about Lebanon Valley.
Although F&M was an emotional win, a measure of how far the Green Terrors have come was reflected in two starters who could have played being held out to allow injuries to heal %J completely. Junior tackle Danny Moore, the leader of the defensive line, and third on the team in tackles has a sprained ankle, and defensive back Pat Duncan, who doubles as the punter, missed his third game with a sprained knee.
Senior Adam Plummer, in for Duncan, had seven tackles and broke up a pass against F&M. Other key defenders were Kurt Reisenweber (Mount St. Joseph), eight tackles, and freshman Gary Carter, seven tackles and his second interception of the year.
Junior tailback Eric Frees increased his school-record career rushing total to 3,249 yards. His 89-yard touchdown run from scrimmage broke the Centennial record of 85, set by Western Maryland's Ken Boyd in 1985. A year ago, Frees had a 95-yard run. Al Miller owns the school record with a 96-yard touchdown run against Johns Hopkins in 1953.
Junior specialist Buck Hartzell kicked a 23-yard field goal, his first attempt of the year, to open the scoring against Franklin & Marshall. It marked his first successful three-pointer since he hit two against Ursinus in the third game of his freshman season. Those were the only ones he tried that season (11-for-13 on extra-point attempts), and last year he was 0-for-3 on field-goal tries and 11-for-18 on extra-point tries.
* TOWSON STATE: About the time coach Phil Albert thought his team had come out of Saturday night's 30-10 loss to Liberty without any major injuries, he learned starting linebacker Tommy Thomson had a broken hand and would be out three weeks. The senior was the team's leading tackler; now, the Tigers have their top two tacklers, Thomson and safety Aaron Bates (season-ending knee injury a week ago), on the sidelines. Senior quarterback Chris Goetz passed for 223 yards and improved his all-time state collegiate career record to 7,036.
* FROSTBURG STATE: The record-smashing department was in operation again in Saturday's 49-7 victory over Bridgewater. Junior fullback Rory McTigue scored twice to bring his school-record totals to 14 touchdowns in a season, 14 rushing touchdowns and 84 points. He chased Richard Prather (1979-82) out of the book with his 13 touchdowns in a season (all by rushing) and his 80 points, marks McTigue had equaled a year ago, his first in school. As a team, the Bobcats (7-0) are averaging 36 points and giving up four. They are ranked nationally in Division III in six categories -- two on offense and four on defense. The highest position is third in scoring defense, as it has allowed 28 points -- single touchdowns in each of four games.