Undefeated Centre hoping to extend history-making season with playoff win

Centre College football coach Andy Frye
Centre College football coach Andy Frye

Centre College's undefeated football team knows it has already accomplished the unusual this season.

Now the focus is on doing something epic.

The Colonels begin that quest Saturday when they visit John Carroll University in University Heights, Ohio, for a first-round game in the NCAA Division III playoffs.

Centre (10-0) won its first Southern Athletic Association championship by posting its first undefeated regular season since the 1955 Colonels finished 8-0.

"I want to give a lot of credit to our senior class," Coach Andy Frye said. "After last year we were close to a conference championship. I think they realized that we were a good team and wanted to do what it took to be great. I think when we laid down the objectives we wanted to achieve, they bought into it."

Centre is 10-0 for the first time since the school's national championship season of 1921, when the Colonels made their famed upset of then-national powerhouse Harvard.

Frye, who became Centre's all-time winningest coach this season and holds a career mark of 110-60 over 17 years, said it's easy to see why perfect seasons are so rare.

"It doesn't matter what people think of your schedule, it's tough to go undefeated and win week after week," Frye said. "I think our team is honored to be placed in the same category as the 1955 team and the 1921 team. I think that's a tribute to Centre. This institution does an incredible job of attracting bright, highly motivated student athletes."

Centre, in the NCAA playoffs for the first time since 2011, improved to 10-0 with a 45-15 victory at Birmingham-Southern last Saturday.

The Colonels, who rank 16th in the AFCA coaches poll and 18th in the poll, have been dominant throughout 2014, winning all but two games by double digits and setting a school record for total offense at 452.8 yards per game.

Frye said the seeds of a special season were planted during the team's nine-day trip to Ireland last May, which culminated in a 90-0 win over the semi-pro Dublin Rebels in an exhibition game.

"I think the Ireland trip had a great effect on the morale of our football team," said Frye, whose team was granted 10 extra spring practices by the NCAA for playing an overseas exhibition. "I think when your team does something so uniquely different in that type of experience, they become very close. I've always said they don't play for me when it's third-and-1, they play for each other. I think that has helped us become a better football team."

In John Carroll (9-1, No. 6 D3Football, No. 9 AFCA), the Colonels face a formidable opponent. The Blue Streaks' only loss came last week, 31-24, at No. 3 Mount Union. John Carroll is making its second consecutive playoff appearance and fifth overall.

On offense, John Carroll is led by Mark Myers, a Pittsburgh transfer who has thrown for 2,573 yards and 32 touchdowns, and Tommy Michals, a senior running back who has rushed for 1,182 yards. The defense is solid as well, allowing just 9.8 points and 214.1 yards per game.

Centre also has stars on both sides of the ball. Three-year starting quarterback Heath Haden has thrown for 1,865 yards and 21 touchdowns while rushing for 565 yards and another six scores. Nolan Coulter leads a deep backfield with 1,123 yards and 12 touchdowns. Max Mazza emerged this season as a big-play receiver, catching 56 balls for 991 yards and eight touchdowns.

Centre led the SAA in scoring defense. Devon Freeman (Louisville), Paul Megilligan (Danville), Kris Beauchamp and Anthony Kersey (Winchester) combined to win five SAA Defensive Player of the Week awards, while Alex Mattingly (Louisville), Nate Letton (Lexington), and Sam Spees ranked in the top 10 in the conference in tackles.

"Right now for us, it's about healing up after 10 games, and John Carroll's probably in the same situation," Frye said as Centre prepares for the 32-team playoff. "We're going to go with what got us here."

Three state teams in NAIA playoffs

Georgetown College makes its 20th appearance in the NAIA football playoffs when it visits Marian University in Indianapolis on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Under Coach Bill Cronin, the 10th-ranked Tigers (8-2) have made the postseason 14 times and are 21-11 with two national titles and two runner-up finishes.

Saturday's game marks Georgetown's first meeting with the No. 7 Knights (8-2).

Elsewhere in the 16-team NAIA playoffs on Saturday, Faulkner (9-2) visits Lindsey Wilson (9-2) at 1 p.m. (EST), and Campbellsville (7-3) travels to St. Xavier of Illinois (8-2) at 2 p.m. (EST).