The Centre football team's first NCAA Division III Playoff run came to an end, but the Colonels were competitive with perennial Division III power No. 2 Mount Union before falling 30-10 Saturday in Alliance, Ohio.
The Colonels' 158 passing yards were the most Mount Union had surrendered this season, and Centre was one of just three teams to score in double digits against the nation's No. 1 ranked team in terms of total defense. Though the Colonels cut an early 16-0 deficit to 16-10 early in the third quarter, missed opportunities kept Centre from getting any closer and allowed the Purple Raiders to pull away late.
"Mount Union was a better team today," said Centre head coach Andy Frye, who saw his team come up empty on two drives deep into Mount Union territory with the Raiders up 23-10. "Most people would probably say they are most of the time, but that's why we play on Saturdays. We believed we could win, but mistakes will get you beat, and they certainly put us in the position to lose today. In games like these, that's usually the difference."
As the Colonels' offense took some time to find its rhythm, Centre found itself in an early 16-0 hole. After both teams went 3-and-out on their first series, Mount Union took advantage of an offsides penalty on a fourth down to march 97 yards in 16 plays with Matt Piloto finding Jasper Collins on an 11-yard touchdown pass for a 7-0 lead. In the second quarter, Mount Union put together another touchdown drive, going 58 yards in eight plays with Blair Skilliter taking a third-and-long screen pass 20 yards to the Centre two yard line, then plunging in for a 14-0 lead a play later. After a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Centre was forced to start on its own seven and gave up a safety on a holding call in the end zone.
"That offsides gave them momentum early," said Frye. "The kickoff penalties pinned us back, which you can't afford against a good defense like Mount Union."
Centre's offense began to find its rhythm before the half, moving the ball to the Mount Union 30 and setting up Jordan Gay (Danville, Ky.) for a 47-yard field goal to make the halftime score 16-3. The Colonels then picked up where they left off at the beginning of the second half, going 63 yards in seven plays with Tyler Osterman (Monroe, Ohio) finding Austin Jones (Louisville, Ky.) on a 32-yard pass and making the score 16-10 on a 17-yard touchdown to Jason Osterman.
"They're a very fast, very physical defense, and the best team we've faced all year," Tyler Osterman said. "It took full execution by all 11 guys every play for us to be successful, and for a while there we really got it going."
Frye agreed that it was around that point in the game when Centre began to get comfortable and get into the flow of the game, both on offense and defense.
"I was pleased with our kids coming out in the second half and getting the score," said Frye. "I personally believe it was adjusting to the speed of Mount Union. They're obviously a good football team, and when you play a team like that, if you can stay close early you begin to adjust to the type of tempo they play. I've noticed when they beat teams pretty good, it's because those teams get so far behind, they can't catch up. We're not a big football team, but I like to say we're fast and nasty, and I thought if we could just hang in there, our speed would be able to stay with their speed."
Though Centre had cut the margin to one score, Mount Union came right back on an 80-yard drive capped by a 22-yard touchdown from Piloto to Brandon Brown. Unfazed, the Colonels moved back into Mount Union territory only to see the drive stall when a touchdown pass slipped through the grasp of Jason Osterman, and Gay pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide right.
"It would have been a huge play if we could have had that catch and cut it to a one score game," said Tyler Osterman. "He catches that ball 99 times out of 100, and this was just that one time. I don't know that it changes the outcome, because we still had momentum and were going strong."
After each team went three-and-out late in the third quarter, Ryan Gallas (Prospect, Ky.) picked off a Piloto pass to start Centre out at the Mount Union 47. The Colonels drove down as far as the 14, but turned the ball over on downs when Mount Union's Chris Favazzo leaped to bat down a fourth down pass over the middle intended for Jason Osterman.
"We could have converted on that fourth down, but the kid just made a great play," said Frye. "It was a great call and the play was there. I think he might have been able to walk in to the end zone if the ball gets there, but the kid just made a big play."
That series would be the last serious threat the Colonels would put together. Though they forced a Mount Union punt on the next series, Centre was unable to take advantage. On the following possession, the Raiders started at Centre's 39 after a facemask penalty on the punt, and Jake Simon punched in a touchdown five plays later to effectively put the game out of reach at 30-10 with 2:53 to play.
For the game, Mount Union passed for 189 yards and rushed for 135 for a total of 324. Centre picked up 219 total yards, passing for 158 and rushing for 61. Tyler Osterman was 14-of-30 passing for 158 yards, connecting most often with Jason Osterman, who caught four balls for 52 yards and a touchdown. Jonathan Pinque (Athens, Ala.) was Centre's top rusher with 56 yards on 19 carries.
Piloto finished 13-of-27 for 189 yards, two touchdowns and an interception for Mount Union while Skilliter was the top rusher with 78 yards and A.J. Claycomb the leading receiver with 69 yards. Jared Ferguson (Monroe, Ohio) and Erich Vogelsang (Northbend, Ohio) led the Centre defense with nine tackles each.
Centre wraps up its season with a 9-2 record while Mount Union moves to 12-0 and advances to take on No. 9 Wabash, which came from behind to defeat No. 6 North Central 29-28 on Saturday.