Georgetown College football was so heavily penalized in the NAIA polls for a road loss at No. 1 Lindsey Wilson — the defending national champion, and throttling everybody in sight — that the Tigers' postseason hopes need a surprising volume of outside help.
Coach Bill Cronin's message to his team after a 28-7 win Saturday at Toyota Stadium over University of the Cumberlands was simple: Control what you can control.
He characterized the Tigers' one-sided dominion over the in-state rivalry, one in which they've won 16 of 19 meetings, as round one of the playoffs. Next week's senior day against Cumberland (Tennessee) University is round two.
Take care of business there, GC's venerable leader told his troops, and it will be hard to deny them entrance when the real party begins on Saturday, Nov. 20.
“We're making progress. I like this football team,” Cronin said. “We've got a chance next week to win and then play on a little bit. Hopefully we can do that.”
Georgetown (7-2) pulled its foot off the accelerator after scoring twice in the final 30 seconds of the first half to open a four-touchdown lead.
Brandon Burgess delivered a 23-yard strike to Aaron Maggard for a 21-0 advantage with 29 seconds to intermission.
After a strip sack by DJ White, Rafael Rhone appeared to pad the lead by scooping up the loose ball and chugging into the end zone, but an inadvertent whistle tempered that celebration.
No matter, because Burgess immediately went deep to Jake Johnson for their second TD connection of the half, a 44-yard dagger with eight seconds on the clock.
“That's kind of our thing this year has been the vertical ball. Brandon throws it well, and we've got some athletes out there that go make the play,” Cronin said. “That helps. And then the offensive line, just being consistent and giving us the time to be able to do that. It seems like that's what we are right now. We've evolved into a vertical team.”
Burgess finished 14-of-25 for 244 and three scores. He was sabotaged by at least one other drop of a sure touchdown and also missed some open receivers.
Cronin chalked up some of that fading sharpness to the human nature that has set in after several spacious first-half leads this season.
“Everybody gets a little bit complacent. You've got to have that killer instinct. You want to go for the jugular every time,” Cronin said. “Most of that comes from the quarterback. He's got to be able to connect on some of those passes to keep that rhythm going. We lost some of that rhythm, and then we were kind of starting over. We've got some work to do.”
Defense dominated for the third consecutive week, sacking Cumberlands (6-3) seven times and forcing a pair of turnovers. The Patriots didn't pick up their initial first down until the 9:55 mark of the second quarter.
Cumberlands scored the first touchdown against Georgetown in eight quarters, dating back to a win over Thomas More two weeks ago, when Ethan Cox caught a fourth-down throw from Ben Nixon for a 19-yard score with 4:31 remaining in the third quarter.
Davon Starks later picked off Nixon at the goal line to stifle any notion of a Patriots' comeback.
“Pretty solid for the most part, and then there are times when they get complacent as well,” Cronin said of the defense. ”It really comes down to tackling and pursuit angles and that kind of thing.”
GC christened the crisp, cloudless afternoon with a 12-play, 75-yards scoring march that took up 6:25 and ended in Jalen Lumpkin's 1-yard plunge.
After an intentional grounding penalty stunted Cumberlands' next series, Burgess rolled to his right and dropped a 38-yard dime to Johnson for 14-0 edge.
Johnson's 103 receiving yards and Darius Barbour's five catches topped the Tigers.
“I'm a little disappointed that we dropped some in the first half. We missed on some opportunities,” Cronin said. “It came so easy at first that you know how it is. Mentally you change.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at email@example.com.