Western Carolina will kick off conference play this Saturday when they travel to Johnson City, TN, to take on East Tennessee State University.
Western will be riding the momentum of a 39-27 victory over the Bucs in their only meeting last season.
Offensively, the Catamounts plan to come at ETSU with an entourage of players.
As has been the case in the squad’s first two games, senior Donnie Bryant and sophomore Fred Boateng will predominantly carry the ball.
Bryant kicked off the season by rushing for 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Mars Hill.
Meanwhile, Boateng led the way for WCU rushers two weeks ago at Louisville, carrying 25 times for 80 yards and the team’s lone touchdown.
As for the passing game, sophomore Brian Gaither and senior Pat Cilento will split time leading the offense at quarterback, a strategy coach Bleil has implemented in both games in the 2001 campaign.
A break from those first two games, however, is that Cilento will start the game for the first time this season. At the same time, Bleil stresses that Gaither will still see playing time.
“Both quarterbacks have made great strides and are getting better each week,” he said.
Perhaps the most surprisingly element early in the season, WCU’s defense, will be led by junior safety Justin Fryer.
The Connelly Springs native was named Southern Conference Defensive player of the week after the opener against Mars Hill after a 7-tackle performance that also featured a fumble recovery and a late interception.
Testing Fryer and the rest of the Cat defenders, however, will be the traditionally strong passing attack of ETSU, led by quarterback Matt Wilhjelm.
He ranks third in the league with 164.5 yards per game and has also managed to post an efficiency rating of 118.5.
He will be throwing predominantly to standout receiver Cecil Moore.
After the Bucs’ first two contests, Moore has racked up 11 receptions and 174 yards, both roughly half the total mark for Buccaneer pass-catchers.
On a side note, the Catamounts have evidently caught the eye of the national media.
Though not making the top 25 in the most recent The Sports Network poll, the team was included in the ‘others receiving votes’ category, indicating Western earned at least five points in TSN’s most recent poll.
Western leads the all-time series against the Bucs 21-20-1 after winning last season in competition stretching back to 1932. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m.