Salisbury registered one of the biggest upsets of the NCAA Division III season with Saturday's 38-35 win at then-No. 4 Wesley in a pivotal New Jersey Athletic Conference showdown.
But while the outcome may have been shocking to many observers, Sea Gulls coach Sherman Wood said the players and coaches thought the Wolverines were beatable.
"The more video we watched as a staff and players, the more confident we felt like we could beat Wesley," Wood said Thursday morning. "Don't get me wrong, I've told people they shouldn't be in Division III. … They have athletes that can play Division II and Division I football. Collectively, I thought Wesley had the best talent in Division III. What we saw was what opponents were not doing or what they were doing. We took a page from the North Central game, the 50-49 game [that the Wolverines won on Sept. 26]. We thought, 'Wow, you can score on those guys, you can score on Wesley and put 49 points on them.' And then looking at opposing defenses, a lot of defenses were playing scared and a lot of the schemes they had, I was confused. We just said, 'We're not going to do those things. We're going to do something different.' So I think it was more of what the opponents were or were not doing. We just wanted to try to keep them off-balance as much as possible."
Still, Wood called the victory the biggest in program history and acknowledged that the coaches had to bring the players back down to earth when the team reconvened on Monday.
"We had to settle them down," he said. "Fortunately, it was on a Saturday, so on Saturday and Sunday, I'm sure they celebrated and weren't thinking about our next opponent. Even on Monday, we had to remind them that we do have a game."
Salisbury (6-2 overall and 6-1 in the NJAC) – which rose to No. 21 in the latest D3football.com poll – can capture the league championship and the automatic berth in the Division III playoffs by defeating Frostburg State at Sea Gull Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m. Under second-year coach DeLane Fitzgerald, the Bobcats (6-3, 5-3) have collected the most wins in a season since the 2005 squad went 6-5, and Wood said the Sea Gulls have to expect a determined effort from Frostburg State.
"They're going to be fired up," he said. "This is their championship so to speak. We know they're going to be coming after us, and they're going to be aggressive. The bottom line is we have to focus on the task at hand and the opponent and not focus on anything else. That's the message we've been sending to our guys the past couple days."