Fa­mil­iar faces help key turn­around for Bob­cats

SMAC play­ers guide Frostburg State to com­plete 10-win sea­son

Maryland Independent - - Sports - By MICHAEL REID mreid@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SOMDhab­s­fan

Frostburg State Univer- sity won nine of 10 games this past sea­son and was so suc­cess­ful thanks in large part to a large con­tin­gent of South­ern Mar yland play­ers.

The Bob­cats had 10 such play­ers on its ros­ter this sea­son. Hail­ing from Calvert County was punt- er Joe Gui­di­das (North­ern) and de­fen­sive back Allen McKel­ton (Hun- tingtown), while full­back Corey Den­nee (Leonard­town) was the lone St. Mary’s County rep­re­sen- tative. Charles County con­sisted of quar­ter­back Joe Beck­ford (Lackey) and four play­ers from North Point; lineback­ers Aaron Gib­son and Graylin Walker and de­fen­sive line­men Gor­don Rowe and Boakum Vi­tal.

The team also had two other lo­cals in line­backer D.J. Dun­lap (North­ern), who red­shirted this sea- son, and de­fen­sive back Skyler Berry (Hunt­ing- town), who played ju­nior var­sity.

“It was a ball,” Beck­ford said of play­ing with so many fa­mil­iar faces. “You can talk about past ex­pe­ri­ences about when we played with and against each other and we could re­late a lot to each other.”

“Play­ing with the peo­ple I once played against, es­pe­cially a group as tal­ent- ed as the one we had, was awe­some,” Den­nee said. “The tran­si­tion from high school foot­ball to col­lege foot­ball is a big one and you get to ex­pe­ri­ence that with all the fresh­men com­ing in. Play­ing with so many guys from SMAC that I know were tal­ented made me trust them even eas­ier as team­mates.”

Frostburg con­cluded its 2016 sea­son Nov. 19 with a 38-14 win against No. 22 St. John Fisher (N.Y.) Col­lege in the Asa S. Bushnell Bowl at Franklin Field in Philadel­phia.

The Bob­cats (10-1, 8-1 New Jersey Ath­letic Con- fer­ence) snapped a 7-7 tie and broke the game wide open with 31 unan­swered points, in­clud­ing 21 in the se­cond quar­ter in a span of 4 min­utes 22 sec­onds, in­clud­ing Walker’s 55-yard in­ter­cep­tion re­turn for a touch­down with 3 min­utes 52 sec­onds left in the half, which proved to be the even­tual win­ning points.

Frostburg reg­is­tered 17 tack­les for a loss and posted 10 sacks. Though St. John Fisher had 330 yards in of­fense, they were held to mi­nus-26 yards rush­ing.

It was the first bowl win for the Bob­cats since a win over Wilkes (Pa.) in 1996. Frostburg was 0-5 against St. John Fisher from 2010 to 2014.

The win capped an his­toric sea­son for the Bob­cats, who won their fi­nal nine games to tie a pro­gram record and reached 10 wins for just the se­cond time in the pro­gram’s 56-year his­tory of the pro­gram.

It was also a huge turn­around for Frostburg, which won just one game in 2013, jumped to four wins a year later and was 6-4 last sea­son.

“I be­lieve this year was a good turn­around from past years,” said Beck­ford, a ju­nior. “Our team re­ally stepped up and came to­gether to rep­re­sent our school. The coaches did a great job with us. [Our record] def­i­nitely spoke for it­self. I’m happy with the sea­son and the out­come, but, hon­estly from my opin­ion, I think we should have made the play­offs [on an at-large bid].”

“Coach [DeLane] Fitzger­ald when he got here the spring of my fresh­man year said, ‘For those who stay, you will be­come cham­pi­ons,’” said Den­nee, a se­nior. “And for the group of 19 se­niors that were there for that meet­ing held onto that un­til our last game.”

An­other mile­stone was reached Nov. 12 when Rus­sell Never­don hauled in a game-win­ning pass from Con­nor Cox in Frostburg’s 21-17 win over Sal­is­bury in the an- nual Re­gent’s Cup. The win gave Frostburg a share of the NJAC ti­tle.

“It prob­a­bly hit me more after our Sal­is­bury game,” Gui­di­das said of clos­ing out his col­le­giate ca­reer. “My se­nior year it was like, ‘I have to beat th­ese guys. I haven’t beat- en them my whole life.’ We scored in the last min- ute, it was se­nior night, and there were [3,890 fans]. It was fan­tas­tic, but it was also re­ally emo­tion- al. That’s when it hit me.”

The Bob­cats lost to Sal­is­bury 70-14 in 2013, but made the fol­low­ing year’s matchup much closer, fall­ing 27-10. Last year, the Bob­cats led 27-7 after three quar­ters but ul­ti­mately lost 28-27 on a game-win­ning touch­down with 36 sec­onds left.

“Grow­ing up I’ve had a bunch of win­ning sea­sons but noth­ing like this year,” Den­nee said. “Go­ing 10-1, win­ning our con­fer­ence, win­ning the Re­gents Cup and win­ning the ECAC Bushnell Bowl made this year un­for­get­table, and with the group of guys that I did it with made the whole thing that much bet­ter.”

The 6-foot, 175-pound Beck­ford ap­peared in nine games this sea­son and also played wide re­ceiver. He had 21 catches for 200 yards, third-best on the team. He also had eight car­ries for 39 yards and his 237 all-pur­pose yards were fifth-high­est on the team.

“I’m happy, but be­ing a com­peti­tor and hav­ing a com­pet­i­tive spirit I think I need to step it up a bit,” said Beck­ford, who gave plenty of credit for his development to Lackey head coach John Lush and the Bob­cats’ coaches. “The game is a lot faster. You have to make [deci- sions] a lot quicker than at the high school level and there’s a lot of big­ger de­fen­sive line­men com­ing at you, [so] there’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment.”

Den­nee played in 11 games and had a carry for four yards in the bowl game. The 6-0, 220-pound se­nior also added two tack­les, in­clud­ing one for a loss.

Vi­tal, a 5-11, 230-pound sopho­more, had nine tack- les, two for a loss and added a sack in seven games. Rowe, a ju­nior, played in eight games and had 10 tack­les, 2 1/2 for a loss and a quar­ter­back hurry.

Walker ap­peared in 11 games and the 5-10, 190-pound fresh­man scored two touch­downs to tie for sixth in team scor­ing. He also added 43 tack­les (eighth-best on the team), in­clud­ing 12 solo, and added two blocked kicks, a sack and a forced fum­ble.

The 5-8, 180-pound Gib­son saw ac­tion in 11 games and has 32 tack­les, in­clud­ing 3 1/2 for a loss. The ju­nior also de­fended two passes. McKel­ton, a 5-9, 175-pound fresh­man, ap­peared in five games and had two tack­les, one for a loss.

The 5-11 Gui­di­das punted 53 times for 2,017 yards (38 av­er­age) and his long­est — he had four punts over 50 yards — trav­elled 59 yards. He also had two touch­backs and dropped 12 kicks within the 20yard line.

“It’s tough be­cause if you miss a pass, you know you’re go­ing to get one later. If you miss a tackle, you know you’re go­ing to get an­other chance to tackle the guy again,” said Gui­di­das, who said punt­ing was 70 per­cent tech­nique. “But if you miss a kick, it can change the whole game. You also have to have a re­ally short term mem­ory.”

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