Upset victories can be the turning point in a team’s season, and Salisbury may have found its defining moment of the 2014 campaign in Saturday’s 37-34 overtime stunner against then-No. 6 St. John Fisher.
But coach Sherman Wood wants to make sure that the Sea Gulls (2-2 overall and 1-1 in the Empire 8 Athletic Conference) don’t let the win go to their heads.
“What we have to be careful about here is overconfidence,” Wood said Wednesday morning. “We had a great win against Christopher Newport at their place at night in front of a packed house [in the season opener on Sept. 6]. The next week, I guess we felt almighty [before losing to No. 4 Wesley, 43-5]. Our goal is to build confidence, but not be overconfident and respect the teams that we’re playing because it doesn’t get any easier. What it did is that it gave them another opportunity to win a conference championship. Now we’re 1-1 in the conference and we control our own destiny. That’s what we want.”
Beating the Cardinals (3-1, 2-1) not only inserted Salisbury into the race for the league championship, but it also may have changed the narrative for the current season. After defeating Christopher Newport, 41-32, the team dropped games to Wesley and conference foe Buffalo State, 32-28.
The loss to Buffalo State was especially galling considering that the Sea Gulls failed to protect a 21-10 advantage at halftime. The setback initiated some extensive introspection by the players and Wood.
“After that game, it was a long ride home – 9½ hours to be exact – and we had some soul-searching to do,” Wood said. “We had a team meeting on Monday prior to the St. John Fisher game. There was a players-only meeting on Monday before I met with the team. It was one of those feelings where I felt like, ‘You’ve got to be nice to the guys. You’ve got to give them positive reinforcement. They’re kind of young.’ So we opened up the lines of communication and we sat down and discussed some things as a team.
"Then I chose 10 guys – one freshman and nine other starters – and after that meeting, we just sat down and had a heart-to-heart. I don’t know if that discussion did anything, but all I know is that from that day forward, our kids had had enough. They felt embarrassed, they knew they let a game slip away. … We get to Rochester, and all I can tell you is, the players took over. I’ve been here for 16 years, and we’ve had some great teams. I don’t think anything can beat the 2011 team that went to the quarterfinals and played the reigning national champions in [the University of] Wisconsin-Whitewater, but I’ve never experienced the energy from start to finish from our players in all of my years coaching football. I can’t explain it.”