Maryville College's Nelson Smith earned USA South Rookie of the Week honors for the third time this season, as the freshman quarterback held the Scots to a their first-ever outright USA South Championship.
Smith led Maryville to a 31-14 victory over N.C. Wesleyan College on Saturday, as MC earns just its second NCAA postseason berth in school history.
"It was his best weekend," Head Coach Shaun Hayes said. "Nelson is such a talented player, that a lot of times his inexperience at that position – from a recognition of a defense pre-snap to the execution of the play where you have to do something that is a little different – there's been a lot of struggle with that. It's expected. He's a freshman, and we're seeing a lot of good defenses and a lot of good looks. He crushed it Saturday. He really did. When we prepared through the week, I felt he was very comfortable. He was able to articulate, and he was able to talk. I think he was able to see it, and he was confident when he threw it. Small details, he listened."
The Goodlettsville, Tenn. native had a 203.7 passer rating in Saturday's victory, as he was efficient throughout the contest.
Smith went 8-of-11 for 156 yards and a touchdown. He averaged 14.2 yards per attempt, while adding 12 yards across the ground on the afternoon.
The freshman signal caller opened the game in a big way, as the Scots' first play went for a touchdown.
Smith dropped back, finding senior Mac Seagle for a 65-yard touchdown pass. That play knotted the game at 7-all, as MC would go on to take the lead and never look back.
"Our number one thing was do not overthrow the vertical ball," Hayes said. "We felt like we could outjump them and come back to the football. They didn't play it very well in the air, and we felt like they didn't tackle very well when we had it. He did exactly what we told him to do."
Smith also added completions of 22, 18, 15, 13 and 13 yards.
On the season, Smith split time with fellow freshman, Trevor Thomas. Smith had completion percentage of 64.1 on the year, as he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark during his final regular season contest.
The Beech High School product tossed for 1,018 yards and eight touchdowns on the year. In his nine-game career, Smith has an efficiency rating of 133.0, as he's averaged 7.2 yards per attempt.
He's added 89 rushing yards and a pair of scores across the ground this season.
Smith will have a chance to add to those numbers this weekend, as the Scots travel to Berry College in Rome, Ga. for the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship.
Hayes said having the freshman be such a big part of MC's run this season is special to see.
"I think it's awesome," the head coach claimed. "Just to have a guy that I know has worked so hard – the amount of time he invested in the summer months on his own to when he got here. It was a little fuzzy to him, because he'd never been in an offense like this. Just the persistence every day trying to learn and doing more on his own. His leadership – it's a different style of leadership. People are drawn to it, because they know when it comes that moment, you're okay crawling in a hole with that man."
Kickoff against the Vikings is slated for noon on Saturday. Live video and live stats will be available for the NCAA postseason contest.