Sept. 24, 2013
Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir took part in the weekly Southern Conference Football Head Coaches' Teleconference on Tuesday morning. He spoke about WCU's come-from-behind victory over Mars Hill, as well as the Catamounts' return to Southern Conference play this Saturday in Birmingham, Ala., at Samford. Kickoff is set for 2:00 pm CT / 3:00 pm ET.
Saturday's game will be broadcast on the Catamount Sports Network broadcast with an air time of 1:00 pm CT / 2:00 pm ET across 11 stations and online at CatamountSports.com. Fans can listen to the game locally on WWCU-FM, Power 90dot5 in Cullowhee; 540 AM WRGC in Sylva; 1050 AM WFSC in Franklin; 920 AM WPTL in Canton; 1150 AM WAVO in Charlotte/Rock Hill, S.C.; 1270 AM WCGC in Belmont/Gaston County; on ESPN Radio 1310 & 970 AM in Asheville/Canton; 1600 AM WTZQ in Hendersonville; and on CSN's newest affiliates, Country Legends 550 and 92.9 in Statesville.
"We're obviously very excited to get our first win of the 2013 season," opened Speir during his time on the call, reflecting on the 30-23 home win over Mars Hill which snapped a 13-game winless drought. "It was a downpour, rainy afternoon in Cullowhee, and a sloppy ball game. We got behind and at one point were down by 11 points to a very good Mars Hill football team. But to our kids' credit, they never panicked."
Speir added, "One thing we've been preaching is discipline, and keeping your composure and faith in the system and faith in each other and each man just doing his job. Our guys didn't panic - and that hadn't happened in the past. Last year, we had a 3-or-4 games where we were winning in the fourth quarter and we lost all of them. We were down in the fourth quarter and a group of young, inexperienced players could have `spit the bit out,' but they found a way to win, kept their composure."
Looking to build upon a victory - the first since the season-opening game of the 2012 season, Speir felt the experience gained from the adversity faced in Saturday's game was a great teaching and learning tool.
"I think we made strides," explained Speir. "That's something you can put in your bank so that when you're down in the next ball game, your players will hopefully recall that and not panic and keep playing the game, keep counting on each other and find a way to go win a ball game. That kind of experience for an inexperienced football team, you can't buy that. We took that as a real positive coming out of the game."
Western Carolina (1-3, 0-1 SoCon) had little time to revel in the season's first victory as a three-game road trip including two contests in SoCon play loom on the horizon beginning with Saturday's trip to Samford. Speir was very complimentary of the Bulldogs squad, and their head coach, former Heisman Trophy winner, Pat Sullivan.
"(We're) focusing our attention on an excellent Samford football team. Coach (Pat) Sullivan and his staff do a tremendous job," said Speir. "They've got great players. Everybody just talks about `well, they've got smart kids who play disciplined' - and they are that, but they've got really good football players."
As does much of the discussion when looking at Samford, Speir began at the top with preseason All-SoCon and Senior Bowl candidate, Fabian Truss. The Birmingham, Ala., native is averaging over 230 all-purpose yards per game, handling kickoff and punt returns in addition to his time in the backfield. He is averaging 83.5 yards rushing with three touchdowns, 33.8 yards receiving with a score, and over 117 yards in returns with one kickoff taken the distance for a 100-yard TD in the opener.
"(Fabian) Truss is a running back that is as good as any back in FCS football. He's a dynamic player that does a lot in their offense in running the ball, catching the ball and in the return game," said Speir.
Even with the flashy numbers Truss has compiled through the first four games, Speir was quick to remind those on the call that Samford has several other weapons on both sides of the ball that can hurt the opposition.
"(Kelsey) Pope the receiver, the quarterback (Andy) Summerlin does a great job with game management, throwing the ball. Defensively, they're big and they make you beat them. There's not a lot of big plays on them; they make you be disciplined and ball control. You can't get penalties and get behind on them. They've got a tremendous secondary and their mike linebacker, (Justin) Shade is a really good football player."
He added, "We've really got our work cut out for us, playing at their place. The games they've lost, they've had opportunities to win - and they've had some big wins. So, it's a tremendous challenge for our football team, but a chance to get back into SoCon play and try to go down to Birmingham and beat a top-tier team in FCS football."
Last season's meeting with Samford was one Speir alluded to with regards to leading in the fourth quarter only to come up short. The Catamounts carried an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter after back-to-back third quarter touchdowns in front of a Family Weekend crowd of 10,112 in Cullowhee. However, Summerlin completed a 20-yard scoring strike to Riley Hawkins and Truss scampered into the end zone for his second of two rushing TDs with five minutes remaining in regulation to provide the final tally, 25-21.
WCU had two possessions after Samford pulled in front, but managed just one first down and a total of 19 yards in eight plays with the Bulldogs able to run out the clock over the final 1:54.
The Catamount defense set the tone in the outset of the game as blindside pressure from Brian Johnson and the opposite defensive end, Caleb Hawkins, allowed blitzing safety Sertonuse Harris to sack Summerlin in the backfield, jarring the football loose. Hawkins fell on the ball for an early touchdown just seven seconds into the game.
Eddie Sullivan saw the bulk of time at quarterback for Western Carolina a season ago as he found eight different receivers and tossed a pair of touchdown passes - both to since departed seniors, Jacoby Mitchell and Conner Orr. Troy Mitchell's time in the backfield was limited to six rushes for 32 yards.
Truss rushed for a game-high 180 yards with two scores while Summerlin threw for 173 with a TD, but was sacked four times by the Catamount defense which also came up with an interception. Bulldog kicker Cameron Yaw also missed two of his three field goal attempts, both coming from beyond 40 yards.
Kickoff on Saturday is set for 2:00 pm CT / 3:00 pm ET.
Here is an excerpt of quotes from Tuesday's teleconference:
Speir on the challenge of transitioning from play at home to the road:
"It's just every day controlling what we're doing and getting better. Among our top 44 players - 22 on offense and 22 on defense - I think its 18 freshmen and 14 sophomores; 32 of our 44 are guys that don't have a lot of college experience in playing the game. It's like starting a new business - you can have employees that are great people; you can have employees that will work their tails off, but they're not seasoned businessmen. It's the same thing in football."
"We're making a lot of mistakes that cost us. When our 11 that are on the field at any one time - when we're doing things right - we're a good football team, we're a football team that can win Southern Conference games. At times with our players, when it doesn't happen exactly like it happened in practice, they're not seasoned enough yet - and that only comes with game experience."
Speir on the youthful team learning this season:
"We're a team that's maturing; that's learning how to adjust in ball games when something doesn't happen just like we saw it in practice. Learning to study film better - they watch film, but how are they watching it. We are having to provide every little aspect with this football team on how to get prepared, how to mentally get prepared. We're still getting stronger in the weight room. It's just every little step that we're having to mature this football team. But I've said it - and I'll say it again; I love this football team because they're a great bunch of men that want to be good. We have no effort problems and issues with work habits. It's just growing a football team up. You see the confidence coming more and more every week. We've just got to continue to build on it."
Speir on sophomore QB Troy Mitchell's maturation process:
"He's a very mature young man. He does well in school. He's man of few words; he just kind of grins at you. Always doesn't say much, but when he says it, it has substance. Our team rallies behind Troy; they believe in him. He's a guy that puts enough pressure on himself, but he knows that he doesn't have to be Superman. He has great composure and is generally very good in his decision making and he takes care of the ball. We're excited about the rest of this year and the next two years, building our program around Troy Mitchell - he's the face of our team, he's a leader on our team, even as a sophomore in just his third semester of college."
"I looked out on the field Saturday on those three scoring drives we had to win the ball game, on offense there's nine guys that are in their third semester of college or less."
"Troy's a guy that our team and our coaching staff rallies around and has a pulse of our team. He's a guy we're building this football team around."