Centre football celebrates NCAA bid, prepares for Hampden-Sydney
After finishing the regular season with an 8-1 record, the Centre College football team will host Hampden-Sydney College on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship, the Colonels’ first postseason in 90 years.
Even though Centre had a very good season, the playoff berth was far from a given. Two weeks ago, Centre had a chance to lock up the automatic playoff bid for the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference in a matchup of unbeaten teams at Trinity. Though they built an early 14-0 lead, the Colonels were unable to hold on in that game, meaning their postseason fate was in the hands of the NCAA’s selection committee. With one of the nation’s toughest schedules and their only loss coming to an undefeated top-15 team, Centre’s players and football staff had reason to be confident in their chances of an at-large bid, but still they had to wait until the NCAA’s online selection show for the official word.
“It couldn’t have been set up any better,” said head coach Andy Frye of the suspense during the announcement of the tournament brackets. “We had looked at all the teams that could be considered, and we thought we had a good chance. We see all the at-large bid teams going in, and we’re wondering how they got in ahead of us.”
Not only did the team have to wait for the selection show, as the Centre football family gathered to watch in Sutcliffe Hall, they had to wait until the bottom of the final bracket revealed to hear their name called. Just as Frye was beginning to contemplate words of encouragement for his players in the event they would have to accept their season coming to an end, Centre’s name appeared and the squad erupted into a celebration that has since been preserved on YouTube.
“It came down to the last bracket,” Frye added. “I’m sitting there starting to think of what I can say to help them through this disappointment, thinking of things to encourage and help them learn from this. Next thing you know, they announced Centre, and I think you could have heard the kids scream all over campus. That, right there, is the reason why I coach, and the capstone of what you want your players to share and experience.”
In fact, the celebration was so intense that it took a moment to realize that not only were the Colonels in the playoffs, but they would be hosting a home game.
“We didn’t even know (we were hosting) at first, because the kids were going crazy,” said Frye. “I was trying to see who we’re playing and where we were playing. When I saw the asterisk, I knew we were at home. I appreciate the committee seeing our strength of schedule, because we’re really the only non-automatic qualifier to get a home game.”
Frye, however, is quick to note that he considers the playoff appearance not simply an accomplishment for the current team but a victory for the many former Centre players who never got the opportunity to compete in the postseason. In the nearly 90 years since Centre fell to Texas A&M in the Dixie Classic — a game more widely known nationally for the origin of Texas A&M’s famed 12th Man tradition — there had been several near misses before the 2011 squad was able to break through. Frye noted the 1955 team which had a Tangerine Bowl bid pulled as well as numerous teams since the Division III playoffs began in 1973 that came up short due to conference technicalities, selection committee snubs or tough losses.
“We’re thrilled for our players and our institution, but most importantly for our Centre football alumni, those who trained, prepared and fought for the opportunity to represent Centre in its pursuit of a national championship,” Frye said. “So it goes out to those guys. I hope our alumni can play vicariously through this football team, because it’s really for them.”
When Centre meets Hampden-Sydney on Saturday, the Colonels will be facing one of the strongest offenses they have seen this season and a team that has been in the playoffs four out of the last five seasons. The Old Dominion Athletic Conference champions average 42.6 points per game and have several offensive threats, led by quarterback Travis Lane, running back Kirk Rohle and wide receiver Kyle Vance. Lane and Vance have hooked up often this year with Lane throwing for 3,244 yards and 28 touchdowns and Vance catching 93 balls for 1,288 yards and 14 scores. Rohle has picked up 968 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground while catching another 54 balls for 509 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re very athletic, and their offense will score,” said Frye. “They have a good offensive line, skill kids who can really make plays, and I think their quarterback makes good decisions. I think with that, that’s why they’re able to score. They get in a lot of different sets, do some motion to keep you off balance, but really it comes down to them having a couple big playmakers, and they’re going to make sure those guys touch the ball.”
Of course, Centre’s offense, which averages 33.4 points per game, is not without its own playmakers. The Colonels dual-threat backfield of Jonathan Pinque ’12 and Monte Scotton ’12 has combined for 1,383 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground while picking up another 346 yards and two touchdowns in the receiving game. Quarterback Tyler Osterman ’12 has been an efficient passer as well, throwing for 1,535 yards and 13 touchdowns. It is a unit that hopes to move the ball against a Tigers defense that surrenders an average of 27.3 points and 409.9 yards a game.
“Defensively, you can tell they’re sound,” Frye said. “They’re not going to give you a bunch of different looks, they’re going to stick in there, play fundamentally sound and force you to beat them.”
Saturday’s kickoff is slated for noon at Joe McDaniel Field at Farris Stadium. Tickets are $8 general admission, $4 for students and are available in the athletic office of Sutcliffe Hall from 10 a.m. to noon and 2-4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, or at the gate. Live stats and video are available on the Centre website.