W. Maryland keeps fires banked in dismantling opposition for 5-0 All-business Green Terror eyes 16th straight victory

October 13, 1998|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

When Joe Kendorski rushed for 125 yards on 19 carries against Muhlenberg, any doubts about Western Maryland vanished. The sixth-ranked team in Division III appears to have what it takes.

With sophomore running back Kendorski and quarterback Ron Sermarini, the Green Terror can run, filling the void left when Gavin DeFreitas graduated.

With Sermarini and receiver Mike Starke, the team can pass. With linebackers like Tommy Salecky, it can defend against the run, and with defensive backs like Tom Lopato, it can defend against the pass.

With all that talent, 5-0 Western Maryland could win its 16th consecutive regular-season game at home Saturday against Dickinson, breaking the Centennial Conference record set by Dickinson in 1987-88.

There's nothing the Green Terror can't do -- and do well -- except get too excited about what it already has done.

"Dickinson will be our toughest game to date," said offensive lineman Mat Mathias, who's part of a unit that has averaged 418 yards per game. "Four of our last five games will be our toughest of the year, so we have to pick it up. We can't be distracted by patting ourselves on the back, because we have a lot more games to go."

If there has been any single concern for coach Tim Keating, "picking it up" might be it. He has watched his team run roughshod over foes, but wonders if the Green Terror's heart is in it.

"Last year, we went in to Gettysburg with a lot of emotion," Keating recalled. "This year," he said about a 28-10 win on Sept. 12, "we went in with there being a job to do."

Keating said he works best when he's calm, but he would like to see more yelling, more encouragement among the players. Instead, the team is as calm as its coach.

The pattern starts with Western Maryland seemingly more irritated than engaged before shooing away an opponent.

In the Oct. 3, 43-3 win over Muhlenberg, the passing game started slowly, with Sermarini unable to complete a pass on the first scoring drive.

The defense allowed three completions to the same receiver during an 88-yard Mule drive to the Terror's 2-yard line, setting up a field goal that provided a veneer of competitiveness.

Other than those two instances, both in the first nine minutes of play, the game featured the most complete effort to date for Western Maryland, which returned 17 of 22 starters from an undefeated regular season in 1997.

That team (10-1) beat Johns Hopkins, 21-3, for the conference crown, advancing to the Division III playoffs, where it lost to Lycoming, 27-13, in the first round.

Keating said the team's emotional outlay during the season caught up with it in the playoffs, as well as a broken bone in the wrist of its leading rusher, DeFreitas.

He said the team had given so much of itself in each of its previous 10 games that there wasn't much left in the second half of the 11th.

"It did feel that way," said Salecky, who leads a defense that has given up about 250 yards per game. "I think we're just as emotional, but we're out there with a purpose."

Keating said his team believes that, to go farther, it has to conserve its emotional energy for games such as the Dickinson matchup, Franklin and Marshall (Oct. 24) and Hopkins (Nov. 14).

"Maybe they're saving themselves," Keating said before the Muhlenberg game. "They've used a little caution in the expenditure of their emotions."

Some players, like Sermarini, are skeptical of the coach's reasoning on the Lycoming loss. "I don't know that it [emotional burnout] had that much to do with it," Sermarini said, noting that it was a blocked punt that turned the tide of the game.

Getting even that far was a pleasant surprise. The young '97 team was coming off a 4-6 '96 season and merely wanted to continue the slow climb Keating had achieved since arriving in 1993.

Now, the players expect to win.

"This year, we know we can't lose," Salecky said. "We know we have to take it all the way and each game is a championship to us."

Western Maryland has had a national championship as a goal since its loss to Lycoming. The private thought became a public expectation in August when Street & Smith's picked the Green Terror No. 1 in Division III. Some suggested that was a little much.

"We expected to be ranked high, but we didn't deserve that because we haven't accomplished any of our goals yet," said Sermarini, who is sixth among conference quarterbacks in career total offense.

"We were the only team in the country that won by 32 points and was upset about it," Salecky said of what was thought to be sloppy play in a season-opening, 56-24 win over Bridgewater on Sept. 5.

As long as his players' focus on a national championship keeps the winning streak alive, Keating harnesses his concern over their coolness, relying on his faith that when his team needs to put its heart into an effort late in the season, it will know where to find it.

"When it's emotional, it's more fun," Keating said, "but I also think the most fun is when you win."

Pub Date: 10/13/98

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