View from top is best at Western Maryland After struggling for years, a resurgent Green Terror is shooting for perfection

October 25, 1997|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Nestled on the edge of rustic Westminster, the Western Maryland College football team had staggered into anonymity.

The once-proud football tradition gradually became tarnished with the likes of a 29-game winless streak in the mid-1980s, no conference championships since 1963 and just 11 winning seasons over the past 33 years. But the glitter has returned to Western Maryland, which has become more well-known for its panoramic backdrop of mountain silhouettes and endless acres of farmland than its gridiron prowess.

The Green Terror, named after a Western Maryland railroad, is back on track.

Western Maryland has won its first six games -- its best start since 1951 -- and is ranked No. 15 in Division III heading into today's homecoming game against Franklin & Marshall.

If Western Maryland wins its final four games, it would mark only the third perfect season in the school's 106-year football history, its first Centennial Conference title and its first league championship since claiming the Mason- Dixon Conference crown in 1963.

"Bottom line, you have to find good young men for your program," said fifth-year coach Tim Keating, who graduates just five key players from this year's team. "This is the best bunch of guys I've coached. The situation here isn't utopia, but is extremely favorable. I'm just disappointed it took five years. This is just the beginning."

That's troublesome news for the opposition, especially after Western Maryland's dominating performances week after week.

Behind the Centennial Conference's top scoring offense and defense, the Green Terror has outscored its opponents by an average of 34-10 and is three victories shy of establishing the best start in school history. It is reminiscent of the Green Terror's play during the 1930s, when it was a national football power under Hall of Fame coach Dick Harlow.

After a 55-7 loss to the Green Terror a month ago, Gettysburg coach Barry Streeter said, "It's the best Western Maryland team I've seen in my 20 years."

Try to run against the Western Maryland defense. Opponents have only cracked the Green Terror for 68.5 yards rushing per game and only 2 yards per carry.

Then attempt to move the ball through the air. But Green Terror opponents have completed just 38 percent of their passes for 118 yards per game.

The defense, led by sophomore linebacker Tommy Selecky's 50 tackles and eight sacks, hasn't allowed a point in the first quarter this season.

And the scouting report on the offense is just as impressive with sophomore quarterback Ron Sermarini.

Creating havoc with his rollout passing and scrambling ability, Sermarini has completed 68 percent (91 of 133) of his passes for 1,131 yards and 13 touchdowns. Over the past two games, he has produced the two most accurate passing games in school history, connecting on 81 percent of his attempts (69 of 85).

"He's a big playmaker," Streeter said. "You can't expect him to be in one spot, so you can't design a pass rush. When you get a combination of his running and throwing, you're smiling as a coach."

Over the past two decades, however, there were few smiles on the Western Maryland sidelines. After a 7-2 record in 1979, the Green Terror progressively slumped until the program hit bottom.

Western Maryland didn't record a victory over a 29-game stretch from 1984-87, going 0-28-1, which included a 25-game losing streak and back-to-back winless seasons. During that winless span, the Green Terror was shut out nine times and lost by three touchdowns or more 12 times.

"Back then, we were trying to win," said quarterbacks coach Dave Seibert, who has been a Western Maryland assistant for 19 years. "Now we expect to win. It's a mental attitude."

Western Maryland seemed to turn the corner under coach Dale Sprague, as the Green Terror went 6-3-1 in 1990 and started 5-1 in 1992. Then trouble mounted as Western Maryland lost its last four games and Sprague publicly chastised his team, saying, "This is the most underachieving football team I've ever coached. I'm ashamed of it."

Players complained to school officials and Sprague abruptly resigned less than a month after the season.

Enter Keating, who had just revamped Division III Wesley College in Dover, Del. But Keating had no reservations in entering another turbulent situation and taking over a program that hadn't won more than six games in 18 years.

"I got an ego like anybody else," Keating said. "It was a challenge to myself. I wanted to do this again and make sure it was not a fluke the first time. I believe in myself."

And the players finally believe, too. Just ask Western Maryland's top rusher and receiver Gavin DeFreitas about his prediction for the rest of the season.

"We want to be the first team at Western Maryland to win the Centennial Conference," DeFreitas said. "We're 6-0 right now and I don't see anyone stopping us."

Pub Date: 10/25/97

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