Small colleges Terrorized

Football: Western Maryland's Green Terror extends its winning streak in small-town obscurity.

November 05, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

WESTMINSTER -- Western Maryland College's football team set a school record Saturday, extending its unbeaten streak to 28 regular-season games.

At your average football powerhouse -- the Penn States, Michigans and Florida States of the world -- it might have set off celebrations for miles around.

At Western Maryland, the Green Terror's victory set off horn-honking.

Fans who parked around the field tooted their horns after each score as the team roared to a 57-20 trouncing of the Widener Pioneers. (The rowdiest fans set off their car alarms).

Western Maryland, a private school with 1,500 students, competes only against other small colleges and isn't about to receive an invitation to a bowl game. But the Green Terror and their fans are in football heaven right now, even though much of hometown Westminster hasn't noticed.

Head Coach Tim Keating acknowledged that many area fans pay more attention to the University of Maryland (5-3, compared with WMC's 8-0).

"As far as football goes, there are the Terrapins," Keating said. "People are into the big-time, the flashy, showy stuff. This is a small college. Maybe if we continue to win, and build a reputation, maybe there will be more interest."

WMC players have their sights set ona prize less glamorous than a bowl game, but one that has them running, tackling and blocking almost every night: the NCAA Division III championship, the trophy given to the team that reigns supreme among the nation's tiniest schools. And a national title is something special, by any measure.

Players say they rarely fantasize about playing for a bigger school.

"I'm happy where I am -- I can't complain," said star quarterback Ron Sermarini, who wants to become a state trooper in his home state of New Jersey after graduating and -- oh, by the way -- has thrown for 6,881 yards and tossed 65 touchdown passes in four years.

"I like my teammates. We've been successful. We've won a lot of games," Sermarini said. "Everybody says `You think you could have gone to Penn State?' I think to myself, `I'm happy where I am.' "

Matt Meiklejohn, WMC's senior linebacker, who led the conference with 13 sacks last year, said he enjoys his intimate campus, where players don't receive athletic scholarships but do receive congratulatory notes from cheerleaders and high-fives from professors.

"I'm obviously not good enough to play Division I, but I'm in Division III, and I enjoy it," he said. "It's a love of the game."

Among many alumni, the streaking Green Terror is beloved. Barry Buckalew, who graduated in 1988, views the Terror's recent success with incredulity. The WMC football team was abysmal when Buckalew was in school, losing 25 consecutive games in the mid-1980s.

"Nobody cared. We didn't come down to watch unless there was beautiful weather," he said. "By my senior year, we were hoping we'd lose. We were within striking distance of the NCAA's losing record. We wanted some kind of streak."

WMC has had other successful teams. In 1934, when small schools still competed against large universities, WMC's 8-0-1 squad was invited to the first-ever Orange Bowl in Florida to play the University of Miami. (The school, during the Depression, didn't have money for train fare and couldn't go). And from 1928 to 1930, the team went 27 games without a loss.

But come to Westminster an hour before kickoff, in the midst of this stellar season, and it's hard to find hints of football fever.

Not far away, in football-obsessed State College, Pa. -- home of the nationally known Penn State Nittany Lions -- roads are congested miles away as 96,000 fans make their way to Beaver Stadium for home games. Almost every store displays Nittany Lion posters, signs and memorabilia.

In contrast, Green Terror pride did not abound Saturday in Westminster. Traffic was light. Parking was easy. And the message board at the Shell service station downtown read simply, "Happy Birthday Theresa."

At WMC's Scott S. Bair Stadium -- where the bleachers stretch across only 40 yards -- fans crowd into 20 rows of seats, close enough to the press box to hear the phones ring. There is a small scoreboard with "Terror Territory" written on it. There is no big-screen "Jumbovision." Announcements, such as when students can get flu shots, are painted in jumbo letters on the grass.

But football is football, and fans are fans, wherever the game is played. At Bair Stadium, about 1,000 fans wearing everything from Green Terror jerseys to Notre Dame caps were transfixed on the game from beginning to end.

"Move them sticks!" yelled one.

"They're fired up!" cried another.

The team's colors are green and gold, and their theme music when they burst onto the field is from "Star Wars." (It's the dark theme played whenever Darth Vader enters.) The Green Terror has only two full-time assistant coaches. One is a retired high-school coach; the other doubles as assistant track coach.

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