|On a defensive line where Will Sewell has gotten the accolades, Niles Scott is playing a much larger role than in the past.
Frostburg State athletics photo
At first look, this season has looked a lot like the movie Groundhog Day for the Bobcats.
Like last season, Frostburg State has won five of its first six games and are contention for the New Jersey Athletic Conference title. However, in 2015, they lost their last three games by a total of 15 points. This year, they are looking to flip that script.
It has been a time of renewal for the program since coach DeLane Fitzgerald took over the reins in 2014. They have posted 16 wins in just over two and half seasons. A playoff caliber program throughout most of the 1990s, they had won just 17 games over the previous eight seasons.
So when the Fitzgerald arrived the cupboard was pretty bare. The team was coming off a 1-9 season and went winless in the Empire 8. The fastest way to turn around a football program is to bring in good players and one guy kept standing out as he watched recruiting film.
It was Niles Scott, a 6-3, 250-pound defensive lineman from Elkton, Md.
Scott, now a junior, has played a key role on a defense that currently 11th in D-III in total defense and 14th in scoring defense. The unit allows just 13 points and fewer than 250 yards a game. From an interior line position, Scott has registered 5.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for losses.
“He’s been a leader since the day he stepped on campus,” said Fitzgerald. He fondly remembers Scott scooping up a fumble during his freshman season and returning it 30 yards for a touchdown against Ithaca in 2014. It was a key play in the Bobcats’ double-overtime victory over the nationally ranked Bombers.
It might have also been the point where you could tell that the program was headed in a different direction.
“Niles scoops and scores and makes like four guys miss on his way to the end zone.”
That athleticism has helped make him maybe the best interior defensive lineman that you haven’t heard about. As he grew to 280 pounds and dedicated himself in the weight room, he moved from end inside to a three-technique tackle.
“He was a better player as a sophomore, though the stats didn’t show it,” Fitzgerald said. “Playing inside, he was getting double- and triple-teamed.”
“Now, he’s adjusted as a junior. They’re having a hard time blocking him with two people.”
It took a while for Scott to adjust, but according Scott “now he just reacts.” Traditionally, interior linemen just take up blockers, but the design of the Bobcat defense is different.
“They beautiful thing about this defense is that they let the D-line get after it,” Scott said. It’s a whole lot of freedom. We’re able to make some plays.”
That freedom has allowed Scott, senior Will Sewell and others to make a ton of plays in the backfield. The Bobcats are currently fourth in D-III in tackles for loss. Sewell leads the team with 16.5 (fourth in the nation) and junior Jordan Proctor has added 9.5.
“We push each other every single day in practice to see who can make the most plays,” Scott said. “It’s not just him and me, it’s the whole front four.”
“They’re as good as defensive end and interior lineman as there is in the conference,” Fitzgerald said of Sewell and Scott.
So as the Bobcats enter the final three games of this season, what did they learned from the disappointing three-game losing streak to end last season. It included a heartbreaking 28-27 loss to archrival Salisbury in the season finale. The Bobcats led 27-7 entering the fourth quarter.
“We learned we’re not a finished product yet,” said Scott. “We’ve challenged ourselves as unit to finish what we started.
“We have the blessing to be able to come back and be in the same situation as last year. You don’t get a lot of second chances in life. We’re trying to take full advantage of it. We’re going to practice hard every day and take in it one game at a time.”
Game one will be against a Rowan team, that started their season ending skid last season by beating them 15-6 last season in Glassboro.
“They have great tradition are well-coached and as tough and physical as anybody on our schedule,” Fitzgerald said.
After that they travel to Montclair St. and then get another shot at Salisbury to end the season.
“You never forget that feeling,” said Scott of last year’s Salisbury game.
Maybe this year the rivalry game with the Sea Gulls will determine the NJAC title. But whether it does or not, this program is definitely relevant again.
Games to Watch
Albright (5-2, 5-1 MAC) at Widener (5-2, 5-1): It appears unlikely either team has a chance to capture the MAC automatic bid since both have already lost to undefeated Stevenson. But the winner still has a chance if the Mustangs lose twice in the remaining three games. Albright has won five straight since starting 0-2. The Lions have outscored opponents 155-27 in just the last three games. The Pride bounced back to beat Misericordia 51-9 last week. The Widener defense ranks among the best in the conference but will need more consistent play from their offense to take down the Lions.
Brockport (5-2, 4-1 E8) at No. 15 Alfred (7-0, 5-0): The Golden Eagles could throw the Empire 8 into all sorts of chaos if they can knock off the Saxons on Saturday. Brockport has lost to Hobart by six and St. John Fisher by four. Both losses can in the final 1:30 of the game. Freshman quarterback Joe Germinerio, has been impressive the past two weeks. He went 10 for 10 and also rushed for 108 yards in their victory over Ithaca two weeks ago. Then, last week in Brockport’s 21-19 win over Cortland, he passed for 210 while rushing for 188 and accounted for four touchdowns. When was the last time the Eagles had a player rush for 100-plus yards two weeks in a row not named Dan Andrews. Still, he’ll face a tough challenge in a Saxon defense that held high-scoring Hartwick to just 12 points last week. Maleke Fuentes rushed for 217 yards as Alfred scored a season-high 61 points. This should be fun to watch.
Ithaca (4-3, 3-2 E8) at No. 24 St. John Fisher (6-1, 4-1): The Cardinals have had a couple of weeks to stew over a 23-6 loss to Utica. Has the two weeks helped them get healthy? The offense sputtered despite the return of quarterback Matt Naton but they still control their own destiny if they can win out. The Bombers are always tough on defense and still have a heartbeat. They’ll need to win out and get some help.
No. 19 Salisbury (6-1, 5-1 NJAC) at Christopher Newport (5-2, 4-2): The Captains have struggled offensively since upsetting Wesley, scoring just six offensive touchdowns in the last four games. They’ll host the Sea Gulls with a chance to save a once-promising season. They pulled a 51-38 upset last season to shock the Gulls and will need that type of effort to win on Saturday evening. For Salisbury, quarterback has injured late in last week’s win over Kean. The last time he sat out by Gulls suffered their lone loss of the season to Rowan. They have impressed with two straight victories since and will finished with a pair of rivalry games against Wesley and Frostburg the next two weeks.
Hobart (6-1 3-1 LL) at WPI (5-2, 2-2): Not much has been easy for the Statesmen this season and they escaped with another last minute with a late touchdown to beat Springfield 12-7 last week. Still, they control their own playoff destiny with unbeaten St. Lawrence loaming next week. They best not look ahead against an Engineer squad whose two losses are by a total of six points. WPI knocked off RPI 19-7 to capture the Transit Cup. They have not beaten Hobart since joining the Liberty League in 2004. This is their last chance as they leave for the NEWMAC in 2017.