The Centre football program triumphed in its NCAA Division III playoff debut Saturday, advancing to the round of 16 with a 51-41 win over Hampden-Sydney College at Farris Stadium in Danville, Ky.
The game was Centre's first postseason appearance since 1921 and its first ever appearance in the Division III playoffs, which began in 1973. Though Centre was making its playoff debut and Hampden-Sydney had been four out of the last five years, the Colonels were anything but intimidated, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and never letting the Tigers cut it to less than seven.
Senior quarterback Tyler Osterman (Monroe, Ohio) threw for five touchdowns while running backs Monte Scotton (Cleveland, Tenn.) and Jonathan Pinque (Athens, Ala.) each broke the 100-yard barrier, Scotton leading the way with 142 yards and two scores.
"I didn't want our kids just to be thrilled to be playing," said Centre head coach Andy Frye. "We were going to play to win."
Though Centre quickly built the three touchdown lead, the victory wouldn't come easily. With a steady wind whipping across Joe McDaniel Field, the two teams took turns scoring with the wind at their backs, combining for 92 points and 937 yards of total offense.
The difference in the game proved to be the three touchdowns Centre scored going into the wind, most notably a 62-yard touchdown by Scotton right before halftime and a six-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half from Osterman to tight end John Coomer (Somerset, Ky.) that put the Colonels up 41-20.
"That was big, going into the wind and scoring," said Frye. "I thought that was where our momentum swung back. They were going to have the momentum going into halftime. When we scored going into the wind, then I felt like we could keep that lead when we got the wind back."
It was also the field position from the wind that helped contribute to Centre's early lead. The Colonels defense was able to force Hampden-Sydney to go three-and-out and punt into the wind on its first three possessions, setting up touchdown drives of 47, 44 and 42 yards. Osterman threw touchdown passes on the first two of those, hooking up with Rob Melillo (Louisville, Ky.) from 23 yards out for the opening score, then finding his brother Jason Osterman on a 33-yard strike to go up 14-0. Scotton ran in from eight yards out for the third touchdown and a 20-0 lead after a botched extra point attempt.
Still, Centre's players knew things wouldn't continue to come that easily against one of the top offenses in Division III.
"They're a great offense, and it's a playoff game between two of the best 32 teams in the country," Tyler Osterman said about the Hampden-Sydney unit which averages 475 yards and 42 points per game. "We knew they weren't just going to bow down and end it right there. We knew they were going to fight back. We had to keep playing, and it ended up being a great, competitive game."
Those concerns played out as Hampden-Sydney scored on three of its next four possessions with the wind at its back. At the beginning of the second quarter, the Tigers went 80 yards in eight plays with Kyle Vance catching a 21-yard touchdown from Travis Lane. Two possessions later, Lane found Sean Cavanaugh from 26 yards out to cut the margin to 20-13.
Centre was able to answer that score, however, as a 41-yard run by Scotton set up a 23-yard Greyson Janeway touchdown on a screen pass from Tyler Osterman. That score put Centre back up 27-13, and according to Osterman, being able to score against the wind to match a Tigers offense that had found its stride was a key to the victory.
"It made it really tough to throw the ball," Osterman said. "I had to keep the ball down and not get it up into the wind, knowing how when it got up there anything could happen. We just wanted to take care of the ball, not turn it over. We had to rely on our running game, and Monte (Scotton) and Jonathan (Pinque) both ran great. The o-line blocked great all game, and the fact we were able to keep our offense going even when we had to fight the wind was a big key to winning this game."
Hampden-Sydney again cut the margin back to seven on a 30-yard touchdown from Lane to Cavanaugh, only to see Scotton's touchdown make the score 34-20 at the half and Coomer's touchdown push the lead out to 41-20 early in the third. Still, the Tigers came back with two sustained drives, going 60 yards in 12 plays and 59 yards in 10 plays with running back Kirk Rohle scoring at the end of each to pull back to 41-34 by the end of the third quarter.
"It wasn't easy," senior linebacker Jared Ferguson (Monroe, Ohio) said of defending Hampden-Sydney. "We knew they had some great running backs and receivers. We knew that all week when we were preparing for them, and knew they had a quarterback who could wing it around and makes smart decisions. At the beginning of the game they had trouble, but once they got the wind their colors really showed. They were really good, but we just stayed with what we practiced all week, and we stopped them when we needed to stop them."
Though Hampden-Sydney had pulled to within seven, the Colonels had managed to hold onto the lead until getting the wind back in the fourth quarter. They immediately took advantage when a Hampden-Sydney punt fell eight yards behind the line of scrimmage and was returned another three by defensive end Cooper McGuire (Danville, Ky.). With Centre already set up at the Hampden-Sydney 32, Tyler Osterman found Jason Osterman for a touchdown and a 48-34 lead on the first play.
The Tigers put together one last drive, going 80 yards in 12 plays with Lane hitting Vance on an eight-yard touchdown to make the score 48-41 with 7:15 remaining. Upon getting the ball back, Centre was able to run the clock down to 1:19 and extend the lead to two possessions on a 36-yard Jordan Gay (Danville, Ky.) field goal. With Hampden-Sydney driving, Thomas Kent (Cincinnati, Ohio) picked off a Lane pass to seal the victory.
Overall, Centre picked up 302 yards rushing and 161 passing for a total of 463 while Hampden-Sydney got 406 through the air and 68 on the ground for a total of 474. Tyler Osterman was 13-of-21 passing for 161 yards and five touchdowns, and Jason Osterman was the top receiver with four catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Scotton carried the ball 11 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns while Pinque added 100 yards on 21 carries.
Kent and Paul Megilligan (Danville, Ky.) tied for the team lead in tackles with seven. Ferguson finished with 5.5 tackles, an interception and three pass breakups.
Lane went 32-of-60 for Hampden-Sydney for 404 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions, finding Vance 10 times for 103 yards and Cavanaugh eight times for 158. Rohle had 55 yards on the ground.
With the win, the Colonels move on to the second round where they will meet perennial Division III powerhouse Mount Union, 47-7 winners over Benedictine on Saturday.
"I coached at Muskingum back in the mid and late 80s, and that was just when Mount Union was starting their run," Frye said of his opponent, which has won a total of 10 national championships and has reached the championship game 13 of the last 15 years. Some of these guys were four years old when Mount Union was starting their run. I'm honored to play them."
Time, site and other details for the Mount Union game will be released by the NCAA on Sunday and will be posted on the Centre athletics website as they are made available.