In strong region, No. 2 Trinity rules

'98 semifinalist tough on offense, defense

November 27, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Another year, another unlucky draw and another trip to Texas for an undefeated Western Maryland football team, which plays Trinity at 1 p.m. today.

It is the second straight season in which the Green Terror (11-0) has visited San Antonio for an NCAA Division III South Regional playoff game against the second-ranked Tigers (10-0).

Sixth-ranked Western Maryland hopes for a different result than in 1998, when its normally strong defense gave up 20 third-quarter points in a 30-20 loss to Trinity in the first round.

"I don't want this to be the last game for my seniors," Western Maryland coach Tim Keating said. "But we will have to play very sharp for us to have a chance to win. We will probably have to play above our heads."

The round of 16 is early for a meeting of teams ranked as high as these two -- "Too bad the draw ended up that way," Keating says -- hoping to make it to the Dec. 18 Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va. But the pairing is a result of circumstance.

In its Division III playoff pairings, the NCAA keeps teams in their geographic regions. Because there are few Division III schools in southern states, the South Region stretches from Texas to Maryland and includes five of the top 10 ranked teams in the country.

Thus, the Green Terror, seeded fourth in the region, plays the top-seeded Tigers. But it isn't the only team going to Texas. Washington & Jefferson (Pa.), seeded seventh, plays today at No. 3 seed Hardin-Simmons in Abilene.

Trinity coach Steve Mohr said he was surprised at first to see Western Maryland again. "But they did it the fairest way in our region. They did a true seeding," he said, noting the strength of the region. "Whoever comes out of this bracket has an excellent chance to go to Salem."

Last season, the Tigers nearly made it.

Trinity came back from a 21-2 halftime deficit to take the lead from eventual champion Mount Union before falling, 34-29, in the national semifinals.

While Tigers quarterback Michael Burton said he and his teammates were "heartbroken" after the loss, Mohr said the game "gave our kids the confidence that we can step up and play those types of teams."

Trinity returned every offensive starter from that team, and it showed with 39.3 points per game this season.

While the Tigers threw the ball on just about every down in 1998, Burton said the team "wanted to try to give the defense more than one thing to look at."

In addition to a passing attack that produced 2,752 yards and 27 touchdowns, Damond Garza has 1,027 rushing yards and nine touchdowns. The team ran for 1,637 yards.

In its final game of the season, against Millsaps, Trinity ran for more than 400 yards. But Mohr said that he doesn't plan much clock-control strategy.

"The last few games, [the running game] seemed to work out, but our emphasis is going to be on throwing the football," Mohr said. "In the playoffs, the teams we face are going to be more suited to stopping the run than the pass."

In the case of Western Maryland, Mohr is right. Aside from first-half problems against Catholic's Andrew Notafrancesco last week (19 carries, 114 yards), the Green Terror has been tough against the run, giving up only 83.3 yards per game.

Meanwhile, Burton and the Trinity receivers played catch against the WMC defense last year, 506 yards' worth.

"Five hundred and six yards is a big day for a quarterback," Western Maryland cornerback Rob McCracken said. "We didn't execute the way we were capable of."

More than half of it (256) came in the third quarter, when Trinity used a series of big plays to come back from a 7-3 halftime deficit.

The most notable came when Burton answered a long touchdown drive by WMC -- bringing the Green Terror within three points -- with a 66-yard bomb to Canaan Factor, his third of four scoring passes on the day.

"We had a few big plays last year that helped us to take the momentum in the game," Burton said. "Big plays aren't something that you rely on, but it's nice when they happen."

Both teams acknowledge that the back-breaking play -- "a play that took the air out of their sails," Mohr said -- came from broken coverage by Western Maryland, when a safety failed to help a beaten cornerback.

"We had a few blown assignments," McCracken said. "We've been cutting down on things like that so we don't give up big plays."

The Green Terror faces a team that ranked third nationally in total defense (200.2 yards per game), fourth in points allowed (8.7 ppg), sixth in rushing defense (67.9 ypg) and ninth in pass defense (132.3 ypg).

Last weekend, quarterback Ron Sermarini ran for nearly 100 yards, and wide receiver Teron Powell had more than 100 receiving yards against Catholic.

But the team will have to do a better job protecting Sermarini. Last year, Trinity got seven sacks. Linebacker Jeremy Day leads the Tigers in tackles (91), tackles for loss (12) and sacks (four).

Western Maryland linebacker Tommy Salecky is confident that the team can eliminate the mistakes of '98 and produce a victory.

"We won't make the mistakes this year that we made last year, and that's the bottom line," he said. "It's always easier for the loser to prepare for the second time. Now, we know how to beat them, and that's to keep playing our game. We won't let them take us out of our game."

W. Md. today

Opponent: Trinity, Texas

What: NCAA Division III playoffs, second round

Where: E.M. Stevens Stadium, San Antonio

When: 1 p.m.

Radio: WTTR (1470 AM)

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