Centre football builds momentum in win over Hendrix
It didn’t take long for Centre College to get on the board against conference opponent Hendrix on Saturday.
Cody Estep returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Ten minutes later, the Colonels had two more scores on the board.
Hendrix would cut the lead to six points in the second half — but Centre’s offense remained up to the task against one of the top offenses in the Southern Athletic Association, winning 52-42.
“As I told their head coach Buck (Buchanan) at the end of the game, you think of cleaning up mistakes and we’re both really good football teams,” Centre head coach Andy Frye said.
Frye praised his special teams play — and it didn’t go unnoticed. Estep earned SAA Special Teams Player of the Week honors.
Estep also blocked an extra point that was returned for two points, and he caught four passes for 91 yards and a score.
“The biggest thing that helped us, we won the special teams finally,” Frye said. “The first two weeks we have not been consistent on special teams, and really, every one of our kickoff returns, we were able to get the ball almost to midfield or further. They tried a pooch onside kick, they were trying to create momentum too, and Henry Gunner made a great play and caught it. He got drilled but he did a great job. We were smart on our onside. Finally, I felt like we were doing things well. We had some great kickoff coverage. We won the special teams. That was important.”
Centre led 21-0 after one quarter — quarterback Devin Hayes led a nine play, 75 yard drive in the middle of the frame, finishing the drive with a 5-yard pass to Jordan Gunter.
The Colonels’ next drive was one play: Trevor Carnell ran 79-yards for the score.
Carnell’s run was the highlight of another dominant display by the Centre ground game. He finished with 15 rushes for 161 yards, while teammate Colin Burnam had 15 carries of his own for 106 yards. The team averaged 6.9 yards over 40 rushing attempts.
“Trevor is coming along strong, now he’ll be stronger because Colin Burnam is another really good runner,” Frye said. “He was an all-conference running back last year. With him back, I feel like we can rotate in and be fresh and be ready. Every time there’s a big play, they can come off of the field and our offensive run plan doesn’t have to change, we can keep going at it.”
Frye said the team’s dominance on the ground wouldn’t be complete without his offensive line setting the tone: Drew Yeager, Tim Grabenstein, Lowell Brown, Boone Davis and Jacob Mills. He also noted his three tight ends: Austin Hayes, Davis Kannapel and Sam Gray.
“Hats off to the offensive line. Our offensive line is playing very well,” Frye said. “To have those kind of numbers, what we’ve done on the ground in the last three games, you’ve got to think that our offensive line are the ones doing it.
“That’s why we’re running the ball so well. And our wide receivers are blocking well. It’s a total team effort, you think you can get 200-plus yards rushing and two tailbacks with 100 yard games. Trevor Carnell has to be in the top 10 nationally now with rushing yardage.”
Hendrix would score twice in the second quarter, but one extra point return made it 30-13 Centre.
Frye said his team had a chance to bury its opponent later in the quarter, but a fumble on the goal line prevented a touchdown.
Instead, Hendrix took over at the one and was caught in the end zone for a safety to make the score 32-13 at halftime.
The visitors cut the lead in the third quarter, scoring twice and converting each two-point conversion make the score 39-29 after three quarters.
A Ben Logsdon field goal put Centre ahead 42-29, but Hendrix’ offense wasn’t done. A 10-play drive cut the Colonels lead to 42-36 with 9:09 remaining. The Colonels had two turnovers in the third quarter — a fumble and a punt — to aid in the Warriors’ comeback.
“I know we can correct those mistakes,” Frye said. “Not taking anything away from Hendrix, that’s how games are played. When they got within six, we were able to overcome that adversity. I think we practice adversity, we talk about it and that was good for us, especially against a good football team. Good football teams make you play with adversity.”
Linebacker Tommy Kaczocha flipped the momentum with just three minutes left, recording another interception return for a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
Another Centre linebacker, Andrew Busby, earned SAA Defensive Player of the Week honors for his dominant play. He filled stats, recording 14 tackles (11 solo), three tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
“The guy that had the game this week and last week against Hanover is Andrew Busby,” Frye said. “I think Andrew should be up for some national recognition. He’s playing outstanding.”
Frye also credited quarterback Devin Hayes for managing a wild game. He finished 19-of-34 with 238 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
“Devin, he’s got to manage the game,” Frye said. “And I think that’s one reason why we’re 3-0. Is he putting up the numbers that Hendrix’ quarterback has? No. But we’re 3-0 and they’re 2-1. So you’ve got to say he’s doing well. You’ve got to have a quarterback that manages the game.”
It was a game of big plays, and it was Centre’s playmakers who made the plays when it mattered most. Centre Athletics noted that the Colonels scored in five of the six possible ways in Saturday’s contest, recording every score possible except for the traditional two-point conversion.
“In big games, you’ve got to make big plays,” Frye said. “We knew that it’d be that way, not only for us, but for them as well. They got one score on us on a broken coverage, hats off to them, their quarterback saw it. But our big plays gave us a momentum swing, which is important. You also have to drive the football and establish tempo with an eight-or-nine play drive, I think that’s important as well. There were a few times we did that.”
It was another year for Centre’s “Gold-Out” support of pediatric cancer. Families and children affected were honored at the game.
“I hope what it did was put everything in perspective,” Frye said. “It was a Gold-Out, we’re recognizing pediatric cancer victims, families who are battling that. I think all of us need to step back and think about the bigger picture. That’s what I hope it did for our team. I think it’s also a motivation, they’re playing for something outside themselves. I’m glad we were able to do that as well.”
Frye said he and his team talk about courage — being courageous enough to be responsible, dedicated and committed.
“When you talk about the people who have to be courageous, those kids and those families are the ones who have to be courageous,” Frye said. “We talk about maybe doing it for two hours, they’re doing it moment by moment, every day.”
It’s particularly special for the Centre seniors, most of whom have taken part in every Gold-Out the football team has participated in.
“They’re going to wear these kids’ names on their helmets all through the year,” Frye said. “It’s a gentle reminder that this is just a game. Go out, prepare and do the best you can, but there’s people doing something even stronger, they need even more courage than what you’re doing. We say courage is probably the greatest virtue out of all the virtues. You’ve got to be courageous to be responsible, dedicated, committed. Look at these kids, they’re doing it every day.”
Saturday’s game will be another important conference test for the Colonels: They’ll face the team that knocked them out last season.
“This week is when we’ll get the real test, because I think Berry is a better defense than Hendrix,” Frye said. “I don’t think they have the offense that Hendrix does, but they’re a better defense.”
Berry won the SAA last year and are 3-0 like the Colonels this season.
“They’re the ones that beat us last year to keep us out of the championship and the playoffs last year,” Frye said. “This is a big game for us, and for them. We’re back to back, we know that (Hendrix and Berry) are the two teams that are the best in the conference besides us. It’s all about preparation for us this week, I think we have some momentum. That was a good win for us. Hopefully it continues.”