Bobcat Football Stands Tall at NCAA Playoffs

Dec 14, 2017 12:00 PM

By Robert Spahr ’13

Head Coach DeLane Fitzgerald and his Frostburg State University Bobcats leaned into their momentum from last year’s historic season to cement 2017 in the record books.

The Bobcats finished regular-season New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) play with an 8-1 record, finishing second in the NJAC. Then came a memorable 14-7 double-overtime victory against in-state rival Salisbury in the 19th Annual Regents Cup to retain the Cup for the second consecutive year and improve to 9-1 on the year.

The continuing success of the Bobcat squad drew attention from around the NCAA Division III football world. During the season, the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Top-25 Poll ranked Frostburg as high as 8th in the country. Frostburg ended regular-season play ranked 15th in the Top-25 Poll and 17th in the AFCA’s Poll.

For only the second time in University history, the Bobcats gained entry to the NCAA Playoffs, earning one of five at-large bids.

At NCAA Playoffs, the Bobcats defeated Wittenberg (the second-winningest program in Division III history) in the round of 32 and Washington & Jefferson (the third-winningest program in Division III history) in the round of 16. Both teams had gone undefeated in 2017 until falling to the Bobcats.

Those victories marked the first time ever that the Bobcats have won two NCAA playoff games.

The 35-7 Bobcat victory over ninth-ranked Wittenberg included one of the most memorable, unexpected and effective plays in recent memory. On fourth and seven, senior defensive back/punter Dante Chinnery set up for a punt, receiving the ball 5 yards into the Bobcat end zone. Then he did something completely different, utterly confounding Wittenberg’s defenders.

Rather than punting, Chinnery kept possession, darted through a gap in the Wittenberg line and juked past the return man to score a stunning 93-yard touchdown! The unforgettable play tied Frostburg’s record for longest scoring run, sealed the Bobcat victory and earned Chinnery’s Play of the Week honors.

The two postseason wins brought Frostburg to the quarterfinal with an 11-1 record – the winningest season in Bobcat football history. It marked Frostburg’s first appearance in the round of eight since the tournament expanded to 32 teams.

In that game in Alliance, Ohio, the Bobcats met the toughest opposition they’ve ever faced: the 2nd-ranked Mount Union Purple Raiders in their 26th consecutive NCAA Playoffs appearance. The Purple Raiders (the winningest program in Division III history) entered the game having won 114 of their last 115 home games and undefeated on the season. In the Purple Raiders’ first two playoff games of 2017, they allowed a grand total of just 16 points to be scored against them.

The quarterfinal showdown was the first meeting of the two teams, and both entered with high spirits and expectations.

The Bobcats proved themselves a force to be reckoned with, scoring 37 points against the Mount Union defensive line — 10 points more than any other team in 2017 — but the effort fell shy of conquering the indomitable Purple Raiders. The Bobcats’ postseason dreams were dashed with a 70-37 Purple Raiders victory.

Even in defeat, Bobcats continued to set records. Junior quarterback Connor Cox threw four touchdown completions to four different receivers, earning him Frostburg’s single-season and career touchdown records, with 29 touchdown passes this season and 58 over his three seasons at FSU. The Bobcats also smashed the program record for points in a season by nearly 100, finishing with a total of 468 points, and spent the entire season ranked in the top-20 in both the and AFCA weekly polls.

Numerous Bobcat players earned individual honors and recognitions for their performances in 2017.

Frostburg landed 17 players on the 2017 All-New Jersey Athletic Conference Teams, including eight on the First Team. The Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honored four Bobcats with its All-Conference selections, including naming quarterback Cox and senior offensive lineman Jake Townsend to the First Team. also named five Bobcats to its three 2017 All-East Region Teams and named senior Niles Scott its All-East Region Defensive Player of the Year. Scott and senior left guard Christian Walsh were both named to’s First Team, with two players named to the Second Team and one to the Third Team. 

Scott was named to the 2017 Associated Press Little All-America Division III football team's First Team. He is the first player in Bobcat football history to be named to the prestigious AP Little All-America team.

Frostburg graduated nearly 20 seniors in December, but the team will return a host of juniors on offense and defense who are excited to step up and lead the Bobcats to another record-setting season, including the record-breaking QB Cox.

After a day or two dissecting the season’s end, Coach Fitzgerald quickly turned his focus to the future.

“If you don’t get what you want on your first try, work a little bit harder for it and try again,” he told FSU Athletics’ The Bobcast. “You recruit young men who are talented and of high character, and you’re always going to be pretty good. If you get talent and high character and your strength and conditioning and your coaching staff can develop them over a four-year period, you have a chance to be great, which is what we are planning to do going forward."

Fitzgerald has asked each Bobcat to improve their performance a little bit every single day. It has proven to be a winning formula, and the coach doesn’t see that changing.

“The expectation (for 2018) is to make the postseason and then win every postseason game,” said Fitzgerald.

Go Bobcats!

Noah Becker M’06 contributed to this story.