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Wofford's Breitenstein chases FCS ring
Eric Breitenstein nearly has every accolade a football player can earn on the FCS level.
Breitenstein earned All-American honors from the Associated Press and The Sports Network after leading the Southern Conference in rushing. He is also a leading candidate for the Walter Payton Award, given by The Sports Network to the top player in the FCS.
He’s won a share of a Southern Conference championship. He’s been a part of three playoff teams in four years, including a win over Jacksonville in 2010. The year before Breitenstein arrived at Wofford — 2007 — the Terriers went 9-4, upset Montana on the road, but lost at home to Richmond.
There is the one prize that has eluded Breitenstein, and his Wofford teammates — a national championship.
Breitenstein, a fifth-year senior, gets one more chance this season. The Terriers, picked to finish second to Georgia Southern by the SoCon’s media, and third by the league’s coaches, begins Sept. 1 at Gardner-Webb.
“We’ve done really well, but we’ve got to take the next step,” Breitenstein said at the SoCon football meetings last week. “We’ve worked really hard four out of the last five years to make the playoffs. We’re one of the few teams to do that. We want rings. We want a national championship ring.”
The last SoCon team to win a national championship was Appalachian State in 2007. The Mountaineers beat that same Richmond team in the semifinals, and then steamrolled Delaware 49-21 in the finals.
Wofford has struggled in the playoffs since reaching the 2003 semifinals. The Terriers had a chance to beat Northern Iowa in the playoffs last year, but lost 28-21. A key play that hurt the Terriers was when kickoff return man Stephon Shelton did not take a knee after catching a kickoff in the end zone.
Shelton dropped the ball in the end zone and the Panthers recovered for a touchdown to put them in front 28-14 with 14:56 left in the game. Breitenstein scored his third touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run with 2:00 minutes left in the game, but the Panthers held on to win.
Wofford rushed for 457 yards. Breitenstein had 131 yards on 23 carries, but quarterback Mitch Allen ran for 156 yards on 28 carries. It was not enough to carry the Terriers into the second round.
Breitenstein refused to blame Shelton, or any other individual for the loss.
“It wasn’t the only thing that happened in the game,” Breitenstein said. “We had opportunities all through that game. We rushed for about 450 yards on offense and things happened. We turned the ball over a couple of times.”
Wofford coach Mike Ayers said part of Wofford’s problems is making mistakes against good football teams.
“When you get to the playoffs, you’re playing the best of the best and when you do that, you’re going to play teams that quite frankly, whoever makes the fewest mistakes is going to win the game,” Ayers said.
Breitenstein, who is on schedule to graduate in December, but walked with his graduating class last May, spent most of his summer in Spartanburg. He bulked up to 235 pounds during the summer, but got back to his playing weight of 225 pounds.
It’s 10 pounds more than what he weighed when he arrived at Wofford in 2008.
“The reason I was down here this summer is I wanted to be in the best shape I can be,” Breitenstein said. “I think we’re at least close to that. Probably wrestling in high school was my best shape ever. I was almost near death sometimes. But I’m ready to go. I’m in shape and I’m ready to play football.”
That could be bad news for the rest of the SoCon. Breitenstein led the league in rushing with 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns on 268 carries. His rushing total put him in seventh place in the conference in total offense.
Wofford also returns Donovan Johnson, who gained 967 yards and scored nine touchdowns on 110 carries, an average of 8.8 yards per tote.
But the spotlight is on Breitenstein, who was named the SoCon’s Offensive Player of the Year last season, and the leagues’ preseason’s Player of the Year.
“I’m really honored to have the awards, but when it comes down to it, you’re just out there playing football,” Breitenstein said. “I’m excited to play again. It’s my last go-around in college, so we’ll see what happens.”
“When you look at Eric and Donovan Johnson, you’re looking at two of the best backs in the country,” Ayers added. “Eric has toted the mail. He has been super productive. He has played his best games against the best people. He knows how to play whether it’s prime time or not.”
by Steve Behr, Watauga Democrat