'Team of adversity:' Injury-riddled Wofford finds way to win
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Sometimes Wofford coach Mike Ayers can't fathom what his team has accomplished, given the adversity the Terriers have faced all season.
Starting linebacker Michael Roach collapsed during the game at Tennessee Tech with a previously undiagnosed career-ending heart condition. In October, linebacker John Patterson fractured his C6 vertebra - a potentially devastating injury that he walked away from.
Wofford had to turn to its fifth-string quarterback because of injuries and still managed to beat undefeated Citadel, 17-3, last week and reach the FCS quarterfinals.
''It's kind of awesome just to see the way the guys are still playing,'' Ayers said. ''Conducting business on a daily basis.''
The Terriers (10-3) continue their playoff trek Saturday at Youngstown State (10-3) with a national semifinals spot at stake.
Wofford had been a power in the Southern Conference, winning four league titles and reaching the NCAA playoffs six times between 2003 and 2012. But the Terriers went 17-16 the past three seasons and appeared a program in decline entering the year.
The personnel losses began in the summer when starting quarterback, senior Evan Jacks, tore an ACL in the first scrimmage of fall camp.
The most frightening incident came in the opener at Tennessee Tech when Roach went into cardiac arrest and collapsed on the bench early in the third quarter. He was unconscious, stopped breathing for 45 seconds and rushed to Cookeville Regional Medical Center where he was alert and responsive. Roach was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart walls that make it harder to pump blood, and had a procedure to place an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. He returned to campus two days later.
The shocked Terriers, who did not learn their teammate's status until after the game, scored three touchdowns in the second half for a 21-7 victory.
''We didn't know what to do,'' Wofford fullback Lorenzo Long said. ''He's not breathing. You could feel the shock through the whole stadium. But we knew we had to continue the game, win it for Roach.''
That began a series of ''win anyway'' moments for the Terriers.
Backup quarterback Brad Butler started the first four games until he tore an ACL against East Tennessee on Sept. 24.
Patterson's season-ending neck injury occurred in a loss to the Citadel on Oct. 22. The linebacker got up after a hit and walked to the sidelines looking like he hurt his shoulder. Moments later, he was carted to the locker room and later to the hospital. He had surgery the next day to fuse several vertebrae.
Team orthopedist Stephen Kana said after the surgery that he could not believe Patterson had walked off the field.
But the following Monday, Patterson, wearing a neck brace, was walking around with teammates.
Senior safety Jaleel Green said Patterson's loss was difficult to take after losing Roach.
''To see him carted off to the locker room was hard,'' Green said. ''We're just a team of adversity. You get used to it happening, I guess.''
The lineup changes continued into the playoffs.
Junior quarterback Brandon Goodson left last week's game with a sprained ankle, the Terriers had to go to fifth-string freshman Joseph Newman because David Howerton, fourth on the depth chart, was recuperating from donating bone marrow several weeks earlier.
If Newman gets hurt at Youngstown State, Wofford will have to turn to running back Nick Colvin, although he hasn't played quarterback since high school.
Roach and Patterson are at practice each day, supporting teammates and cheering on Wofford's playoff run. Roach's football career is over while Patterson hopes to return next season.
Ayers is the school's all-time winningest coach with 197 victories in 29 seasons. He's grateful both Roach and Patterson were not more severely injured. He's also amazed at his team's resiliency to keep achieving despite obstacles.
''Sometimes, I think, `Golly, will these kids ever break?''' Ayers said. ''It's just a special group with a special bond, doing things nobody thought we could do.''
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