Dennis Riccio knows why Frostburg State is playing in the ECAC Southeast Championship game and not the NCAA Division III playoffs. It's really quite simple.
"The fact is, after everything that's transpired this year, we're not good enough," said the Bobcats' coach, whose team will face William Paterson at noon today in Wayne, N.J. "When it comes right to it, we're just not a good enough football team to be in the NCAA. It bothers me to say that, but it's true."
The Bobcats lost both their inside linebackers -- Kevin Kierzkowski and Todd Appel -- to injuries early in the year. Star fullback Rory McTigue missed a game and a half with a knee injury. The lineup today will include only four seniors.
Even so, the Bobcats could easily be 9-1, rather than 7-3. Frostburg State lost to Mercyhurst and Charleston Southern, both teams the Bobcats should have beaten. But Riccio, who led the Bobcats to improved records in each of his first three years, said he is just happy to be playing in the postseason.
This is the second consecutive year the Bobcats have been invited to postseason play. Last season, Frostburg played in what was called the ECAC Division III South championship game at Bobcat Stadium, and lost, 20-14, to Ramapo (N.J.) This year, the ECAC changed its format and is playing four games (Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest), rather than two (North and South). The winners of the four games do not advance.
Frostburg was selected from among 80 ECAC teams that were not invited to the NCAA tournament (four were). The Bobcats were chosen as the strongest of a weak field of teams in the South by the ECAC, which wanted its "bowls" to have an intersectional flavor.
"I'm happy with the effort that our players have given," he said. "We're looking at it as an opportunity for our seniors to play one last game."
Play one last game, yes. Win one last game . . . that will be more difficult.
"I hope we don't get hurt," Riccio said. William Paterson "is exceptionally big. They look like they have decent skills. It's by far the best team we've played this year."
The Pioneers (8-1-1) have on their resume a 28-14 victory over Glassboro State, which was invited to the NCAA tournament.
Riccio said that if the Pioneers have one weakness, it is speed, which is the Bobcats' strength. On a cold, wet day, though, Frostburg's speed could be neutralized.
"If the weather conditions aren't great and the game becomes strength-on-strength, we could have a problem," Riccio said.