Carnegie Mellon football tramples Majors

All season long, a photograph of the 1990 Tartans loomed above the players’ entrance at Gesling Stadium as a monument to the program’s last perfect regular season. Saturday morning, before his team’s first NCAA playoff game since that special group 16 years ago, Tartan head coach Rich Lackner taped over that portrait a photo of the 2006 Tartans to honor Carnegie Mellon’s newest undefeated team.-

If there was any doubt as to the stability of Lackner’s hasty pre-game tape job, later that afternoon, the Tartans went out and secured their place in Carnegie Mellon football lore by hammering Millsaps College (Miss.) for their first NCAA playoff win in 28 years.

Following a recipe that launched them to 10 consecutive regular-season victories — powerful running backed up by clutch defense — the Tartans dominated the second half against the visiting Majors. The 21–0 victory earned Carnegie Mellon a trip to Dover, Del., where Division III’s third-ranked Wesley College Wolverines (11–0) will host next week’s second-round matchup.

A scoreless first half that included nine punts, two turnovers (both by Millsaps), and a missed field goal set the stage for an apparent wire-to-wire finish. But two early-third-quarter touchdowns and three second-half turnovers by the Majors propelled the Tartans to an 11th consecutive victory.

“If you look at Carnegie Mellon offensively, it’s a situation where you better have a plan to stop the run. They had a lot of people in the box and it was tough going there early on,” Lackner said. “I think it just got to a situation there early in the middle of the third quarter where I think we started to wear them down a little bit.”
The third-ranked rushing offense in Division III gave the Tartans an enormous advantage in time of possession. By controlling the ball for 40:15 over 67 plays, for 260 yards, the offense limited the explosive Majors attack to just 32 plays in the second half.

Able to garner only five yards on 19 carries on the ground, the Majors turned to their nationally 19th-ranked passing attack to get back in the game. But each time Millsaps, which averaged 33 points per game this season, inched closer to breaking through, the Tartan defense came up with a big play.

“We knew going in it was a great defense, a great football team, period,” Millsaps head coach Mike DuBose said. “I’ve been very impressed with them defensively. I do not feel like we did a good job of handling their pressure; we could not establish any running game, and when you can’t run it and you can’t handle pressure it’s going to be a long day.”

Trailing 14–0 early in the fourth quarter, Millsaps quarterback Juan Joseph led the Majors 63 yards over 13 plays to the Tartan 17-yard line, but Carnegie Mellon sophomore defensive lineman Steve Curran reached up and seized a Joseph screen-pass out of the air for his first career interception to end the scoring threat.
On the following Millsaps drive, senior defensive back Jonathon Scholl hauled in Joseph’s next throw deep over the middle at the Millsaps 46-yard line to give the Tartans their fourth turnover.

“The defensive line did a great job today to got pressure on the quarterback,” said Scholl, who led the team with seven solo tackles. “Also, the linebackers, they pretty much took out the whole running game. That allowed the defensive secondary to concentrate on the pass.”

On the ensuing possession, junior running back Robert Gimson (23 carries, 142 yards) put the game out of reach at 21–0 when his 17-yard touchdown run capped an eight-play drive that drained the clock to under five minutes.

“We’re a physical football team,” Gimson said. “Our offensive line works together as a unit as well as, I think, any offensive line in the country. When we find a formation and mismatches that work to our favor, we exploit them. We found some good formations and some good plays, and our offensive line did a great job.”
Gimson — the main outside threat — and between-the-tackles runner Travis Sivek (25 carries, 109 yards) accounted for all three Tartan touchdowns and became the first duo in school history to each top 1000 yards rushing in the same season.

“When you have 11 players on the other side of the ball, there are certain things you can take away,” Lackner said. “We think that if you take away [Sivek], we think we have three excellent running backs in Robert, Colby [Whitman], and Jon Cakert. It’s a situation where you can take certain things away, but you can’t take them all away.”

Sivek gave the Tartans their first score and a 7–0 lead on a three-yard touchdown with just under eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. Millsaps responded with three straight completions on their next drive to the Carnegie Mellon 29, but the defense buckled down and when Joseph’s fourth-down sideline pass was juggled and ruled incomplete, Carnegie Mellon held.

The offense dealt Millsaps a huge blow on the next drive when sophomore quarterback Doug Facemyer connected with senior wide out Mark Davis for a 46-yard gain. Five plays later, Sivek darted through a wave of tacklers for 10 yards and his second touchdown on the afternoon. That two-touchdown edge proved to be all Carnegie Mellon would need.

“If you can rush the football and keep people out of the end zone you have a chance in every football game,” said Lackner.