Centre College didn’t get everything it wanted, but it got the one thing it wanted most.
The Colonels were looking for a bounce-back win following a loss that knocked them out of the national polls and back down to earth, and they found it Saturday in a 35-23 victory over Kalamazoo at Farris Stadium.
They were outgained and at times outgunned by previously unbeaten Kalamazoo, but they were also able to take advantage of some of the Hornets’ mistakes and their own big plays to win their ninth consecutive home game.
A 34-16 loss to Washington & Lee seven days earlier stung a Centre team that had climbed as high as No. 18 in one NCAA Division III poll, and that defeat left the Colonels at a crossroads.
“One of the things coach (Andy) Frye told us is that the rest of the season is going to depend on how we come out and respond to that game, so coming out with a win really helps,” Centre kicker-punter Jordan Gay said. “But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We’re not where we want to be.”
Frye seconded that sentiment, but he said he was pleased with the path his team chose.
“A victory’s a victory. You’ve got to have the sense that you’re winning,” he said. “I’m thrilled, let them celebrate, but we’ve got to tighten things up and get better at our focus on things that we’re capable of doing. But once we clean that up, I think we can be a competitive football team.”
Big plays made a big difference for Centre (3-1), which turned almost all of its noteworthy plays into the points it needed to keep Kalamazoo (3-1) at bay in the second half.
Two of the biggest came late in the first half and early in the second and helped the Colonels build a 28-10 lead.
First, Centre drove 67 yards in 43 seconds at the end of the second quarter, scoring as time expired on a 46-yard pass from Heath Haden to Austin Jones, who got behind a Kalamazoo defender at the goal line to catch Haden’s heave.
“That was big. We were getting behind them, we just weren’t connecting,” Frye said.
On their first series of the third quarter, the Colonels failed to score following a first-and-goal scenario from the Hornets’ 3-yard line, so they sent Gay, a Danville native, out for a field-goal attempt.
A delay-of-game penalty pushed them back to the 9, and the Colonels opted for an option play based on a defensive look they had seen on Kalamazoo’s game films. Holder Jason Osterman stood up and pitched the ball to Gay, who outran the swarm of Hornets to the right front corner of the end zone.
“We just threw it in this week, because looking at the film, they showed weakness on the right side,” Gay said. “The play was run how it was drawn up, because I got in untouched.”
Frye said he was ready to try that play on either a field-goal attempt or a two-point conversion attempt, and he said the Colonels almost tried it a second time later in the game.
“I felt like if we could get a field goal set up, it was there. We almost ran it again, because they were still lining up on us (the same way, but) they caught it, and fortunately I didn’t make the mistake of trying it again,” he said.
Among the other key plays:
—— Devon Freeman forced and Alex Hay recovered a fumble in the first quarter to set up Haden’s second touchdown pass in just over 4 minutes and put Centre in front to stay at 14-7.
—— Hay forced and recovered another fumble in the second quarter after Kalamazoo had driven to the Centre 9.
—— Haden, Centre’s leading rusher with 62 yards, got 35 of them on a carry that set up the touchdown that gave the Colonels, who had only one first down on their previous four possessions, a 35-23 lead and some badly needed breathing room with 5 minutes remaining.
“I think that’s the type of team we’re going to have to be. We’re going to have to be a big-play offense and a big-play defense — until we mature,” Frye said.
However, Frye said the Colonels made mistakes as well, from false starts and offsides calls to late hits.
“That’s not us,” he said. “The only thing I was disappointed in was our mental focus. Those things are all part of being disciplined, and that’s my job.”
The Colonels’ defense also gave up 404 yards, raising their average slightly to 397 yards allowed per game.
“Kalamazoo is a much better team today than what we saw on film,” Frye said. “I thought they did a great job in exploiting some of the things that we have to improve on. Their quarterback made some bad decisions that obviously hurt them, but also some good decisions that put them in position to score.”
Aaron McGuire went 20 for 33 for 194 yards and had a game-high 87 rushing yards, and he threw for two touchdowns and ran for the Hornets’ first score less than 3 minutes into the game.
“They were coming in with a lot of confidence,” Gay said.
Kalamazoo also had four turnovers, however, and Centre didn’t have any.
Haden was 16 for 31 for 189 yards and three touchdowns, and Harry Meisner had one rushing touchdown and one receiving touchdown.
Meisner and Haden were among four backs the Colonels used in the absence of tailback Monte Scotton, who did not dress for the game due to an injury.
Andrew Spitznagel and Erich Vogelsang led the Centre defense with nine tackles each, and Vogelsang and Ben Leahy each intercepted a pass.
Kalamazoo 7 3 13 0 — 23
Centre 14 7 7 7 — 35
Kalamazoo — Aaron McGuire 45 run (William Marx kick), 12:13.
Centre — Harry Meisner 17 run (Jordan Gay kick), 7:13.
Centre — Jason Osterman 27 pass from Heath Haden (Gay kick), 3:10.
Kalamazoo — FG¿Marx 24, :51.
Centre — Austin Jones 46 pass from Haden (Gay kick), :00.
Centre — Gay 9 run (Gay kick), 10:19.
Kalamazoo — Josh Wise 18 pass from McGuire (Marx kick), 7:05.
Kalamazoo — Jimmy Frye 1 pass from McGuire (pass failed), 1:42.
Centre — Meisner 5 pass from Haden (Gay kick), 5:00.
First downs 24 17
Rushes-yards 57-210 38-168
Passing 194 189
Comp-Att-Int 20-33-2 16-31-0
Return Yards 62 70
Punts-Avg. 6-31.8 9-44.0
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties-Yards 4-42 8-54
Time of Possession 31:29 28:31
RUSHING—Kalamazoo, Aaron McGuire 28-87, Dimeko Price 22-84, Gray Vreeland 1-13, Colin Leffert 2-10, Erran Briggs 1-8, Dan Grost 2-7, Alex Dietrich 1-1. Centre, Heath Haden 11-62, Harry Meisner 8-37, Justin Williams 9-31, Matt Farrell 9-29, Jordan Gay 1-9.
PASSING—Kalamazoo, McGuire 20-33-2-194. Centre, Haden 16-31-0-189.
RECEIVING—Kalamazoo, Josh Wise 5-70, Jimmy Frye 4-46, Mikael Lott 4-30, Price 3-24, Grost 2-12, Dietrich 1-8, Cameron Shegos 1-4. Centre, Austin Jones 3-62, Jason Osterman 3-51, Rob Melillo 3-24, Greyson Janeway 2-12, Kurt Wilhelmus 1-17, Williams 1-12, Preston Cahill 1-9, Meisner 1-5, Ricky Adams 1-minus 3.