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Colonels' new command: 'Have fun'

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Cody Estep fights through tackles
Cody Estep had 10 of Centre's 25 catches this past weekend vs. Rhodes.
Centre athletics photos
 

By Brian Lester
D3sports.com

Rewind to a late September game against Berry. Centre had high hopes for its crucial SAA showdown against the Vikings but they were crushed under the weight of a 28-14 loss.

One loss isn’t usually the end of the world, but when you play in the SAA, playoff bids are unlikely if you don’t win the league.

Yet, rather than let the sting of defeat demoralize them, the Colonels responded and have rattled off three consecutive wins.

Devin Hayes, Centre QB
Since Centre's loss to Berry, Devin Hayes has completed 42 of 64 passes (66.7 percent), throwing for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Centre athletics photo
 

“After the Berry game, Devin (Hayes) and I were talking, and we said from here on out we have to stop pressuring ourselves as much as we do and go out and have fun,” said junior wide receiver Cody Estep. “We feel that has worked for us. We are focused and having a blast, and we have great camaraderie.”

The Colonels do indeed seem to be enjoying themselves. One only needs to look at Saturday’s 42-35 win vs. Rhodes to determine as much. That was a game in which Hayes and Estep were on the same page every step of the way and put up head-turning numbers in the process.

Hayes threw for 449 yards and five touchdowns, completing 25 of his 40 passes, and there must be something about playing Rhodes because a year earlier he set the stat sheet on fire with a school-record 527 yards and seven touchdowns in a win against the Lynx.

Estep, of course, benefitted from Hayes’ performance, just missing the single-game record for receptions and yards in a game. He finished with 10 catches, which is two off the record, and his 214 yards was four shy of a record. Good things happen when you have a great quarterback.

“Devin really makes it easy on us. He gets the ball in places a lot of quarterbacks can’t get it,” Estep said. “You don’t have to create as much separation because of that. It’s a blessing to have him.”

Estep has emerged as a go-to threat for the Colonels and is in the midst of the best season of his career. With 37 catches, 657 yards and eight touchdowns, Estep needs just two more receptions, 7 more yards and two more touchdowns to beat last year’s totals.

It doesn’t surprise Hayes.

“The thing about Cody is that he is fast. That’s the first thing people notice,” Hayes said.

Hayes and Estep have proven to be a dynamic duo for a team that has been plagued with injuries to key players.

“That has really helped,” Centre coach Andy Frye said. “Cody does a great job of making plays and Devin has the ability to get him the ball. Our running game has helped, too. It’s taken a lot of pressure off Devin.”

Estep played both receiver and safety in high school, so he has an understanding of what to expect from a defense. That has helped him grown into a key role for the Colonels over the last three seasons.

“I have a pretty good idea of what is going on, on both sides of the ball,” Estep said. “I’m able to get the pre-snap reads and adjust my route according to what the defense is doing.”

Like a lot of athletes, Estep played more than one sport in high school, competing in track and baseball in addition to football.

Football, of course, has always been his best sport, though that is up for debate.

“Some will say baseball is my main sport, but I think football is. It just depends on who you ask,” Estep said.

Judging by what Estep has accomplished up to this point in football, you’d be hard pressed to question him. And you’d also be crazy to give up on Colonels, who have a tradition of success, winning 16 conference titles and making two trips to the NCAA playoffs.

Frye knew after his team returned from its game in Ireland over the summer that it had the potential be really good.

Injuries have hurt their cause to a degree but Centre isn’t letting that slow them down. They’ve come a long way since that loss to Berry, and while their playoff hopes are slim unless they get help, the Colonels have no plans to take their foot off the pedal nor will they stop having fun.

“We have a chance to finish 9-1 and Pool C is a possibility but some things have to happen for us to be chosen,” Frye said. “We’ll just let the chips fall where they may. We just have to worry about Millsaps right now.”

Fight to the finish

Hardin-Simmons and Texas Lutheran squared off in a battle for second place in the ASC and a clutch defensive play by Dedrick Strambler in the final two minutes helped preserve a 33-30 victory for the Cowboys.

Strambler picked off a pass with 1:27 to go to secure the win and help HSU surge into sole possession of second place in the conference standings. The Cowboys are 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the league. Strambler finished his day with nine tackles and ranks fourth on the team (27). He has also picked off three passes.

The game lived up to the hype. Neither team scored in the opening quarter before HSU took a 19-16 lead into halftime during a wild second quarter where the Cowboys trailed 13-6. HSU also trailed in the second half, falling behind 30-26 with 14 minutes to play.

Marc Reed scored the game-winning touchdown with 8:59 to go, finding the end zone on a 6-yard run. It was the freshman’s third rushing touchdown of the season. Listed as a quarterback, Reed has become a valuable threat out of the backfield, racking up 273 yards.

Jaquan Hemphill continued his success as well, bouncing back from an ankle injury that kept him out of action last week to rush for 115 yards and a touchdown. He has scored 13 touchdowns and is 163 yards away from 1,000 for the season.

HSU has won its last two games and has scored 30-plus in all but one game this season.

Regional notes

Want highlights? There were plenty of them in Birmingham-Southern’s 31-24 win over Austin that snapped a five-game losing streak. Matthew Byers put together quite a performance on the defensive end, including blocking a field goal that was returned 75 yards by Wes Guilford. Byers recorded a season-best 14 tackles and also picked off a pass. On the offensive side, Jamal Watkins caught five passes for 93 yards and Ryder Andrews punched in a field goal from 51 yards away to set a school record.

Trinity scored the first 27 points of the game and held on for a 27-21 win over a much-improved Sewanee team. The Tigers have won five of their last six games and were playing Sewanee for the first time since 2012. It was quite a day for Evan McDowell, who rushed for 89 yards and passed the 1,000-yard mark in his career. His career total now stands at 1,078. McDowell also caught a touchdown pass. Trinity’s defense got a big lift from Kievan Boudreaux Vail Miesfeld and Matthew Willis. All three recorded interceptions.

Sul Ross State rolled up a season-high in yards as it dominated Howard Payne 52-15. Andre Wilson churned out 131 yards and a touchdown to pace the Lobos, who put an end to a two-game losing streak in their highest-scoring game of the year. Sul Ross finished with 517 yards in all and gave up just six points in the first half. It held the YellowJackets to just 63 yards through the air and Mike Quinonez and Damian Espinoza finished with six tackles apiece.

East Texas Baptist has won the battle for the Claw again. The Tigers smashed Louisiana College 68-35 to win the rivalry game for the third consecutive year. They did it on a day when they lit the stat sheet on fire for 776 yards, largely behind a head-turning performance from Brian Baca, who threw for a school-record 659 yards and seven touchdowns. Ty Parsons moved past the century mark in tackles for the second year in a row, racking up 17 to push his season total to 108. He needs 15 more tackles to become the single-season record holder.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Florida. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending 10 at The Courier in Findlay, Ohio. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com and wrote Around the Great Lakes for D3football.com from 2012-14. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois.

2014 columnist: Justin Goldberg
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