Penalties and leverage were the difference Saturday between an undefeated University of the Cumberlands football team and younger, smaller Georgetown College.
Whenever the Tigers found precious space to ignite its passing game or any room to get its dormant rushing attack rolling, that dreaded, yellow laundry usually made its garish reappearance and doomed the drive.
Those misadventures doomed an impressive effort by the GC defense, which held No. 8 Cumberlands roughly five touchdowns shy of this season's average scoring output of 47 points per game.
Hard-earned scores by Martize Smith and Darius Young were enough to offset the Tigers' late rally and seal a 14-7 win for the Patriots at Toyota Stadium, the first time they've ruled the in-state rivalry since 2013.
“I like the way our guys competed. I thought they competed hard on both sides of the ball,” GC coach Bill Cronin said. “We missed some opportunities on third down to make a play or two, but that's the difference in the two teams right now. They're sky-high and playing well, and we haven't really gotten over the hump. We're still trying to find those play makers in critical situations.”
Two long throws from Zach Dampier to J.J. Ogbogu halved GC's deficit with just over six minutes remaining.
Yet another defensive stop gave the Tigers time for an encore, one that crossed midfield before three Patriots stuffed a run by Isaiah Cobb for a two-yard loss on third-and-2. Dampier rolled right but couldn't connect with a sliding Jake Johnson on the Cumberlands sideline, and the last of countless chain-moving runs by Smith ran out the clock.
“We've got to have some of these skill guys make plays when they get that opportunity. We've got to be able to catch the ball,” Cronin said. “We've got to do a better job getting hands off us. We were getting held most of the day. They're just not calling it like they used to call it. It's a different game today. For some reason they're allowing people to affect the routes and affect the offensive player more and more.”
Smith finished with 23 carries for 148 yards to lead Cumberlands (8-0 overall, 5-0 Mid-South Conference Bluegrass Division).
GC (4-4, 3-2) contained Young, who haunted Campbellsville for three long scoring grabs a week ago, to four total catches.
The Tigers sacked Patriots' quarterback Josiah Robbins five times, led by a pair from Elijah Johnson.
“Our defense played much more sound today. I thought we tackled well, fundamentally. We're really making progress there,” Cronin said.
The Tigers couldn't get any aspect of their offense clicking until it was too little, too late. Cobb chalked up 22 of his 39 net rushing yards on one carry.
Dampier was 9-for-18 for 130 yards in an abbreviated stint, with freshman Brandon Burgess (5-for-13, 69 yards) taking over for most of the second and all of the third quarter.
Cronin said the switch was at least somewhat by design, with original starter Hunter Krause still out after suffering a knee injury in the third game of the season.
“I like the way both quarterbacks performed. I thought they both showed some energy for us and made good decisions,” Cronin said. “I've been trying to get Burgess in there all season long. The opportunity hadn't really presented itself. With Krause in the situation he's in right now, we just felt like we needed to script that in. I felt good about that. That didn't affect the ball game too much, anyway.”
The Tigers halted both a 9-play, 55-yard march at the close of the first half and an 11-play, 59-yard tour on the other side of intermission, holding the Patriots to a mid-range field goal try in each instance. Cumberlands' Nick Amaya missed both wide right.
Cumberlands still nursed a 7-0 lead when Cobb's big gainer moved the Tigers into Patriot territory midway through the third quarter.
Burgess scrambled twice, then was sacked by Robbie Garvin before his offering to Jake Johnson on fourth-and-4 from the 40 fell incomplete.
The Patriots immediately capitalized, beginning with a 32-yard keeper from Robbins. Three plays later, Young snagged Robbins' slant pass and spun through two Tiger defenders for a 17-yard score.
Burgess' final drive of the day typified GC's troubles with prosperity, He found Darius Barbour and Ogbogu for consecutive gains of 13 and 12 yards to the UC 46.
Georgetown was in four-down territory on third-and-4, but a costly delay of game violation led to an incomplete pass and a punt. The Tigers continue to adjust with an entirely new offensive line from last season.
“Penalties got us pretty good today,” Cronin said,. “That's just part of the game. Part of those penalties is because we're just lacking at a certain position.”
After Starr Thompson (17 tackles) and Santana Jones combined to smother Cumberlands receiver Weston Jones on third down to force a Cumberlands boot, Dampier returned to the fray and immediately hit Ogbogu for a 31-yard again.
They connected again for a 38-yard score on fourth-and-6 with 6:14 to go.
Earlier, Dampier guided Georgetown to the Cumberlands 27 with his best work of the first half, finding Barbour for 17 yards two plays before he scrambled for 13. Throws to Johnson and Shawn Gilliam on third and fourth down hit the turf.
Cumberlands sacked GC quarterbacks four times and held the Tigers' leading receiver, Johnson, to one catch for four yards.
GC forced two punts and a turnover on downs before Smith carried nine times on an 11-play, 73-yard drive to put UC on the board with 4:27 remaining in the first half. His 32-yard ramble set the stage for a 2-yard TD plunge.
Georgetown had won four of its past five games to stay mathematically alive in the division and NAIA playoff chase. Three of their four losses have come by a touchdown or less.
“We're improving. I see steady improvement out of our guys,” Cronin said. “We competed really well. We've just got to be able to get over the hump and win.”
Kal Oakes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.