Preseason polls aren’t always accurate barometers of how a football season will shake out, as Frostburg State is proving.
The Bobcats — a former Division III group moving to Division II and in their maiden voyage in the Mountain East — were picked to finish ninth in the preseason MEC poll. Frostburg currently sits third at 5-1 both overall and in the conference, its only loss coming in the season opener versus West Virginia State. The Bobcats are just a half-game behind the Yellow Jackets and a game behind Notre Dame College in the conference standings.
“Picking us ninth didn’t do anyone in the conference any favors,” Frostburg coach DeLane Fitzgerald said. “They probably would have been better off to have written a bad article about our mothers.”
Bobcat moms would be very proud of their sons right now, and on Thursday, it becomes the University of Charleston’s turn to try and slow down Frostburg. The Golden Eagles (4-2, 3-2 MEC) head to Maryland for a 7 p.m. kickoff at Bobcat Stadium.
One of the keys to Frostburg’s rapid ascension has been its defense. The Bobcats top the league in allowing just 20.2 points per game. Opponents have scored just 15 touchdowns on Frostburg this season. No other team has allowed fewer than 20.
A big part of that, Charleston coach Pat Kirkland said, has been Frostburg’s ability to limit opponents’ big plays. If foes want to score on the Bobcats, they’re forced to work for it.
“They’ve gotten up on some teams and probably have taken them out of their game plan,” Kirkland said. “They’re very disciplined and they don’t give up a lot of those home run shots and those quick scores. You’ve got to be disciplined and put together some eight-to-10-play drives and get points off of them.”
The rub for Frostburg is that one thing the Golden Eagles can do is rack up big plays. UC quarterback Brant Grisel ranks second nationally and is one of only two Division II passers with at least 2,000 yards through the air. He has 2,049 so far with 16 touchdowns against just three interceptions. Top receiver Michael Strachan also sits second nationally averaging a gaudy 139.7 receiving yards per game and is tied with three others with a Division II-best 10 touchdown catches.
Yet Strachan isn’t the only dangerous receiver in the group. Tremaine Ross is fourth in the MEC averaging 89.3 receiving yards per game and UC’s top three receivers — Strachan, Ross and Xavion Gordon — all average more than 15 yards per catch.
“We laughed as we were watching film,” Fitzgerald said. “Their second-, third- and fourth-best receivers in their program not only would start at all the other programs in the conference, they’d be the No. 1 receiver.”
The Golden Eagles needed all of those big plays to keep up with Notre Dame last week. UC actually held a fourth-quarter lead against the Falcons before falling 63-53. As tough as that loss might have been, Kirkland said there was no time to mope.
“A lot of Sunday was maybe healing some wounds, but also understanding that, hey, life’s not going to stop for you and Frostburg’s not going to care what happened to you last week,” Kirkland said. “We have to make sure we have a sense of urgency in our preparation and attack this thing. And I think these guys have.”