The Maryville College Fighting Scots learned their destination for the 2018 NCAA Football Championship First Round on Sunday afternoon, as MC travels to Berry College in Rome, Ga.
The Scots will make their second trip to the NCAA postseason in school history on Saturday, Nov. 17. The squad finished the year with a 7-2 mark, as they posted the program's first-ever undefeated conference record at 7-0.
"It's kind of crazy. I wasn't sure," Head Coach Shaun Hayes said of their opponent. "I knew geographically it made sense, but if I have my facts right, we'll be playing them three times in one calendar year. We opened with them this year, and now we're playing them in the first round. Then, we'll open with them again. That's unique, but we're still focused on us. The opponent obviously was important to plan for the travel, but we've got to continue to do what we've done for this short time that we've been successful. We'll apply it in a different atmosphere and a different situation."
Berry College earned their third-consecutive SAA title this season to earn an automatic qualifier. The squad was ranked as high as No. 9 nationally this season, as they wrap the year up with a 9-1 record.
A time for the battle between the two conference champs has not yet been set.
"It means a lot for this team, and definitely to me," Senior Offensive Lineman Anthony Mahoney said. "I've never been to the playoffs – in high school or ever. It means a lot to me, and I know it means a lot to this team, since we just won this thing outright. We're just trying to keep setting this culture and keep doing it."
The Scots are coming off a 31-14 victory over N.C. Wesleyan College on Saturday, as they made history with the program's first outright championship.
The Vikings took a 21-17 loss to Trinity University (Texas) in the squad's final game of the season.
For Hayes, he knows that this squad will get everybody's best shot in the postseason.
"I think they'll be able to put [the loss] behind them and move on," the head coach said. "I hope that we can put behind us what happened here Saturday in making history. It's history, and we have an opportunity to create a new piece of history. I hope that we can focus on that and not let the USA South Conference Championship being won outright be the greatest thing that happens to this 2018 team."
The Scots played Berry College to open the 2018 season, as the Vikings took a 38-3 victory.
MC fell to Centre College – who also earned a postseason berth – in the second game of the season to start off with an 0-2 record.
"We're pumped," Senior Defensive Lineman Trenton Cumby said. "We get a redemption shot. I think we're a totally different team than what we were to begin with. Now is our chance to show them who we really are."
Maryville's defense was a key part to the turnaround the Scots had, as they have won their last seven ball games. MC gave up a total of 796 yards of offense in their first two contests – an average of 398 yards per game.
However, over the final seven, Maryville allowed just 208.9 yards per game.
"I think we just need to keep doing what we have been this stretch of the season," Cumby said of the defense. "We just have to keep playing hard and physical, and being the brotherhood that we've been all season."
MC allowed an average of 3.5 yards per carry across the Berry and Centre games earlier this year, before the stout defensive unit took that number to 2.1 over the final seven contests, giving up just 421 rushing yards over that span.
The Scots averaged 26.4 points per game this year, as the Vikings posted 36.3. The squad from Rome, Ga. tallied 221.5 rushing yards per game on the season, as MC's defense will be called upon to slow them down. In all nine games, MC allowed just 67.0 rushing yards a game.
"After that second loss of the season, we were like, 'This isn't us,'" Mahoney said. "We knew we needed to gel. Even during those games, our chemistry was too strong. It was like, 'Why are we losing these games?' At least, that's what I was saying. We are so tight as a team. It just means so much that we finally clicked it and turned it on during conference play."
Maryville averaged 393.9 yards per game this season, as they relied heavily on the rushing attack. The Scots posted a ground attack average of 227.9 yards.
Berry has allowed just 98.9 rushing yards per game, as it sets up for a defensive bout.
"Well, I think when we went there, we didn't know what to expect," Hayes said of the meeting between the two schools to start the season. "I think we wanted to believe that we were good because of how much we had invested, but I think we know who we are now. We have that identity. Our kids are extremely confident, and we're a heck-of-a lot more stable in a lot of positions. Coach K is a great coach. He's intelligent enough to know that something has changed. He'll have that team ready to play, so I don't want to get so caught up in, 'We're different,' or 'They're different.' We've just got to be who we are."