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Breitenstein’s Time to Shine

By Matthew Osborne
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Facing the No. 1 defense in the FCS, the Wofford Terriers will need a big performance from Eric Breitenstein this Saturday in Fargo.

Unlike SoCon brethren Appalachian State and Georgia Southern, the Wofford Terriers are not a program steeped with rich history in the FCS playoffs.

Of course, having only been a member of the Southern Conference since 1997, it took a little bit of time for the Terriers to get acclimated with the competitive nature of arguably the top conference in all of FCS football.

Relatively speaking, head coach Mike Ayers has done a tremendous job of making the Terriers not only a competitive program, but a perennial championship contender. In less than two decades in the powerhouse SoCon, the Terriers have won four conference titles, including a share of the conference crown this season.

Despite the amazing success for the program given its relative youth in the SoCon, Wofford has yet to reach the pinnacle of FCS football: the National Championship Game.

The Terriers have earned five berths to the FCS playoffs, and did make it all the way to the semifinals back in 2003, before being ousted by Delaware.

After last Saturday’s 23-7 triumph over New Hampshire, Wofford now has a golden opportunity to match the furthest it has ever advanced in the FCS playoffs. If the Terriers emerge victorious at North Dakota State Saturday afternoon, the Terriers will find themselves back in the semifinals and, more importantly, one game away from making it to the FCS National Championship Game in Frisco, Texas.

In order for that dream to become a reality, though, the Terriers must first overcome the defending FCS national champions: the North Dakota State Bison.

The Bison enter Saturday’s contest as the favorites to repeat as champions. Following a 10-1 regular season which included a 22-7 victory over FBS Colorado State, the Bison earned the No. 1 overall seed for the 2012 playoffs.

The unquestioned strength of this North Dakota State team is its suffocating defense. Playing a physical and disciplined brand of football, the Bison currently lead the FCS in rushing defense, allowing opponents to run for a mere 63.3 yards per outing. As a whole, the Bison are holding the opposition to under 200 yards per game.

For a Wofford team which is reliant on its running game for production, this matchup presents an ultimate battle of guts and determination. The Terriers are sure to fight vigorously to establish a ground game, while the Bison will undoubtedly sell out in an attempt to keep the Terriers’ option game from getting started up.

Although it won’t be easy to move the football against the most dominant defense in FCS football, the Terriers do possess a secret weapon the likes of which North Dakota State has not seen this season.

“[North Dakota State] is the best rushing defense in the country, but they haven’t seen Eric Breitenstein. That’s the difference,” SoCon television analyst Darren Goldwater commented on the SoCon Player of the Year. “What Breitenstein brings to the table is toughness. He brings a leadership ability – when Wofford needs a yard, Breitenstein is going to get it for them. He’s just a different type of player than I would imagine North Dakota State has seen this year.”

There is no question that the focus of North Dakota State’s defensive practices this week has been stopping Wofford’s powerful fullback. Breitenstein was the catalyst in the Terrier’s second round win over New Hampshire, rushing for 247 yards and three scores in the victory.

After his gaudy numbers in Wofford’s first playoff game, Breitenstein now ranks second in SoCon history in career rushing yards (5,595) and is tied for third in conference history in total career touchdowns (65).

The talent of Breitenstein is undeniable, but, for the Terriers, the most important attribute that he brings to the table is his incredible leadership. As goes Breitenstein, so go the Terriers.

“Wofford will not go on the road and beat the No. 1 team in the country if Eric Breitenstein has 70 or 80 yards,” Goldwater commented. “He has to have a big game. That has been their mantra all year long.”

With a chance to make school history staring them write in the face, the Wofford Terriers are turning to the unquestioned leader of their program for leadership and guidance.

Being the man responsible for guiding a team is never easy, but it is a role in which Breitenstein flourishes. It is also a role which he hopes to have for a few additional weeks.

“We talked with Breitenstein at the SoCon Media Day, so before the season even started, and he made it very clear that Wofford’s goal was not to just make the playoffs; their goal was a national championship,” Goldwater continued. “Their mindset heading into the year was ‘hey, let’s get to the playoffs, and let’s get to the National Championship Game’.”

Matthew Osborne - With an extensive background in both writing and high school recruiting, Matt serves as the Editor and Director of Recruiting for Southern Pigskin. Once serving as the South Region Senior Scout for a national scouting service, Matt is very familiar with the top football prospects in the south. If it is a weekend in the fall, you can rest assured that Matt is on the road watching some of the top high school and college games in the region. To keep up with all of the latest recruiting news in the south, be sure to follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborneSP. You can email him at