GEORGETOWN — With Georgetown College seeking a third consecutive NAIA football title in 2002, Carroll College spoiled the party.
The team from Helena, Mont., topped Georgetown 28-7 in the finals.
That was the first of a record four consecutive titles for the Fighting Saints, and of five in six years.
Last year, Carroll tacked on No. 6, one shy of Texas A&I's seven national titles.
Saturday, third-ranked and undefeated Georgetown (12-0) will visit second-ranked Carroll (12-1) in the national semifinals (noon Mountain time, 2 p.m. Eastern). The winner will go on to the title game, Dec. 17, at Rome, Ga.
Carroll, which has an NAIA-record 38 post-season wins, is in the semifinals for the 12th time.
"A lot of times people make the mistake of going in and giving them too much credit, too much respect, and they're intimidated by a team such as Carroll," Georgetown Coach Bill Cronin said. "That's not going to happen to us."
Cronin is confident in his team's ability. He says the Georgetown community reflects that feeling with the support it has shown as the Tigers make their seventh trip to the semifinals.
"I think they're thrilled that the excitement is back," he said.
Coming off an 8-3 season, Cronin had high hopes.
Things happen, though.
Such as quarterback Kaelin Ammons going down in the third game with a season-ending knee injury. Neal Pawsat, a freshman, took over.
One key to overcoming adversity has been defense.
Georgetown ranks third in the nation in scoring defense (12.4 ppg)
"We don't do anything fancy," Cronin said. "But from week to week, I think we try to take away the offensive strength and force them to do other things they're maybe not as polished at."
Zach Goebel leads the Tigers in tackles (71).
Fellow linebacker Brock Messina leads in tackles-for-loss (10) and sacks (12).
For "heart" on defense, though, Cronin points to Stephon Burton, a fifth-year senior out of Henry Clay.
A captain, Burton was dropped from the starting rotation at free safety and added to special teams.
"You would think that would affect his attitude and his approach to things, but it's only gotten stronger," Cronin said. "He is the first guy to lead our football team in a very positive direction. ... It's those guys that really make a difference on your team."
Offensively, Georgetown ranks among the nation's top 20 in scoring (34.9 ppg), total offense (403.5 yards) and passing (255.8).
Pawsat, out of Mason County, has completed 159 of 253 passes for 2,233 yards and 22 TDs. He has thrown only four interceptions since taking over for Ammons.
Adam Schmitz has eight touchdowns — six rushing, two receiving.
Logan Osborne and Zach Sowder have each rushed for more than 400 yards.
Chris Gohman has caught 35 passes for 695 yards and six touchdowns.
Rob Maden, a junior from Corbin who has five touchdown catches, has "a knack for being around the football and making plays," Cronin said. "When you look at him on paper, he's really just a pretty average athlete who just gets the job done. He's just a playmaker, and that's pretty neat."
Kicker Alex Kreimer leads the Tigers with 77 points.
Pawsat says he's "just having a blast with this year."
Carroll surely will try to rattle the freshman.
"We've seen that the past couple weeks in the playoffs," he said. "We expect them to do that again this week. I think our offensive line's done a great job. Coach (Steve) Hill has done a really good job with our offensive line, preparing them for every single blitz they've got coming."
Key cogs include center Kyle Pettit, a three-year starter from Pendleton County, and tackle Matt Byrd, a two-year starter from Woodford County.
Both are all-conference players with, Cronin says, a shot at All-American.
The Tigers will leave for Carroll by charter plane Thursday afternoon.
They will be playing two time zones away. The grass field probably will be like "frozen tundra" after a Wednesday snowfall, and with Saturday's predicted high of 26 degrees.
Burton isn't worried by weather or by travel.
"All the guys we have here have played in playoff games in high school and in maybe colder weather than what it's going to be out there," Burton said. "So the cold won't be a factor. ... We've had some road games, some overnight trips — a long trip to Kansas, a long trip to Belhaven, Miss. — and we've traveled well this year. We're just going to go with that same mind-set."
■ In addition to Cronin, six current assistants were on the staff when the Tigers met Carroll in the 2002 finals: Hill, Marty Park, Brian Landis, Craig Mullins, Bruce Owens and Clyde McConnaughhay.
■ Carroll ranks fourth in rush offense (251.5 yards per game), 10th in total offense (413.8) and 18th in scoring (33.8). Chance Demarais, a junior who leads the nation in rushing (1,760 yards), counts 19 of his 22 touchdowns on the ground. Dane Broadhead, a senior, has completed 173 of 272 passes for 2,184 yards and 30 touchdowns, with six interceptions. Matt Ritter, a senior, has caught 79 passes for 1,187 yards and 15 TDs.
■ The Saints rank seventh in scoring defense (14.9 ppg), 10th in total defense (262.6) and first in sacks (42). Thomas Robinson, a senior linebacker, leads with 96 tackles.