Central gets shot at league football lead

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PELLA—The assignment is simple but the details are far more complex as the Central College football team tackles No. 7-ranked Wartburg College Saturday in Pella.
Game time is 1 p.m. at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
A Central win vaults the Dutch (7-1 overall, 5-1 American Rivers) into a share of the conference lead. But that’s a hurdle no other league team has yet cleared this year against defending champion Wartburg (8-0 overall, 6-0 conference), which has won every game by two touchdowns or more. Central is rated No. 8 in the first NCAA Division III regional poll of the season while Wartburg is No. 2.
It’s Senior Day as 22 Dutch seniors make their final home appearance in uniform.

The series—Wartburg routed the Dutch at Waverly last year 47-20 as quarterback Blaine Hawkins (junior, Ankeny) was sidelined by a first-half injury. The Knights have won the teams’ last two meetings but Central holds a 43-25 advantage in the series, which launched in 1945.

The Knights—Wartburg is the league leader in both offense and defense, outscoring opponents 45.1-15.1 The Knights are outgaining foes 443.9 yards to 314.1, ranking second in both categories. They handed Coe College its second league loss last week at Waverly, 21-7.

“Obviously they have good coaching and they develop their players well,” McMartin said. “They make great adjustments throughout the course of the game. They can play a style of offense and defense that’s tough to beat and they’ve got guys who can execute it.”

Junior running back Bennett Goettsch has gained 577 yards and six touchdowns on 105 carries. Senior quarterback Noah Dodd appears to have emerged after sharing the job much of the year. He has completed a league-high 70.6% of his passes (96-136) with 13 touchdowns and just two interceptions for 1,191 yards. Senior wide receiver Kolin Schulte is third in the conference in reception yardage with 798 on 49 catches with 12 touchdowns.

“They’re very balanced,” McMartin said. “They run the ball extremely well and they throw the ball well. They’ve got a really good offensive line. They pass protect well and they get after you in the running game. It’s hard to get off blocks. Their running backs run really hard. They’ve got good speed there and can break one at any time. Their receiving corps is deep with a lot of speed. Their quarterback is a dual threat. He makes a lot of good decisions and rarely makes mistakes.”

The Knights have limited four teams to 10 points or less. Junior defensive back Eli Barrett has 67 tackles, including 42 solos.

“They’ve got great team speed,” McMartin said. “They run a system where they funnel things to their linebackers. They move their defensive line around a lot and their line is very athletic. They do a great job in coverage. They’ll get you in third-and-long situations and then that’s when they give you a lot of different looks and pressures. They speed it up and make it hard to read. That’s a big part of why they’re successful. They can cover really well in the secondary and that allows them to pressure and run some blended coverages. That gives them some great flexibility.”

The only avenue to success, McMartin said, is for the Dutch to approach the game in the same manner it does each week rather than focus on the opponent or what’s potentially riding on the outcome.

“Players get stressed out when they think about must-win games or about having to score,” he said. “I don’t know that stress is good. Pressure can be a good thing. We want to put pressure on our guys to focus, to execute their assignment, to practice hard and to play the game with great energy. And so if our players feel pressure, that’s the kind of pressure I want them to feel and not the stress of having to win or it being a big game. They’re all big games.”

Suggett returns to offensive line– Tight end Ross Norem (senior, Iowa Falls, Iowa Falls-Alden HS) missed last week’s game due to an injury. His status remains uncertain and he’s not listed on the team’s two-deep roster. But the Dutch did regain the services of left guard Jake Suggett (senior, Chula Vista, Calif., Eastlake HS), who had been sidelined

“I thought (Suggett) provided a big boost for us,” McMartin said. “He really helps our offensive line and I thought our offensive line did a great job on Saturday. We’re going to need them to have a great game this Saturday. That’s a really pivotal position. When I look at Wartburg, their offensive line and their defensive line are very good. Sometimes people get focused on other areas but you have to be good up front to compete with Wartburg.”

Another record—A review of Saturday’s statistics at Simpson in Central’s 51-34 runaway revealed yet another school record. The Dutch were awarded another 12 yards, which gave them 696 yards total offense, 3 yards more than the previous mark set against Loras College Oct. 28, 2017. It also increased running back Jason Hopp’s (sophomore, Earlham) career-high rushing total to 172 yards on 34 carries.

Hawkins set the school passing yardage mark with 421 yards, completing 23 of 27 passes with no interceptions and five touchdowns.

Hawkins was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week for the third time in his career and was tabbed as the conference offensive player of the week for the fourth time and the second time this season.

Kicker Jon Alberts (senior, Huntley, Ill.) was tabbed as the conference special teams player of the week for the fourth time this year and the ninth time overall. He was 6-of-6 on extra points Saturday and also booted a 32-yard field goal.

Third-quarter explosion—After nursing a 17-14 halftime lead, a 28-point third-quarter explosion allowed the Dutch breakout. Hawkins completed 19 straight passes in the game, one shy of the school mark.

“Offensively I thought we executed really well,” McMartin said. “Our guys played with passion the whole game. They played with the confidence that they could counterpunch and that they were just going to keep playing. And regardless of the score and situation, they were just going to go out there and do their job.”

The Dutch surrendered 536 yards, many of which came late in the game, but McMartin said there were things he liked.

“We made Simpson fairly one-dimensional as the game wore on,” he said. “It’s because we got some really good stops in the running game and limited their tailbacks. They’ve got two really good running backs who have had a lot of success against everybody and after the first couple drives in the first quarter, we really hunkered down and made a lot of good plays.”

Simpson tailback Joe Meyer entered the game as the league’s leading rusher but was limited to 28 yards on 18 carries. Simpson was held to 128 rushing yards on 30 carries overall.

Hopp breakout at running back–Hopp has shared the running back duties but shouldered the load Saturday with 34 carries.

“Jason’s run well the last few games,” McMartin said. “He brings some things to the offense we think our positive but it’s not to say that we don’t need the other guys. They can contribute, too, and they do. We’re going to continue to look at each situation and assess it, but Jason has certainly done some things that are positive and he has earned his playing time.”

Target-rich environment–Wide receiver Erik Knaack (junior, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) had nine catches for a career-high 211 yards and two touchdowns Saturday. That’s the third-most receiving yards in school history. Meanwhile, Hunter Robinson (senior, Lisbon), who had five catches for 38 yards and two scores, tied the school season record for TD catches with 12, sharing the mark of Geoff Lamb (1995), Chris Johnson (1997) and Sam Markham (2016).

For the year, Knaack has 46 receptions for 721 yards while Robinson has 44 for 642 and Tanner Schminke (junior, Boone) has 35 for 540.

“We’ve got a core group of guys that if we’re doing the right thing we’re going to get the ball to the place where the receiver is open, and we have a lot of faith that whatever receiver that is, is going to make the play,” McMartin said. “They’re all capable of it. A lot of our younger guys that haven’t got as many reps are also capable. We have a really good group of wide receivers with good depth and good ability. I’m excited about that position.”

NCAA numbers—Central ranks 10th in Division III in red zone offense (92.1%, 35-38), 10th in total offense (498.4 yards per game), 14th in pass completion percentage (.670, 179-267-11), 17th in third-down conversions (50.8%, 62-122), 19th in scoring (41.9 points) and 25th in passing efficiency (169.36).

Individually, Hawkins is second in points responsible for (218), fourth in passing touchdowns (29), 11th in total offense, (325.0 yards per game), 15th in pass completion percentage (.670), 15th in passing efficiency (175.4), 18th in passing yards (2,284) and 22nd in yards per pass attempt (9.14). He’s completed 169 of 250 passes (67.6%) with nine interceptions and 29 scores for 285.5 yards per game.

Robinson is 10th nationally in punt returns (14.3 yards per return) and is the league leader as well. He’s also ninth in Division III in touchdown catches (12).

Alberts is fifth in Division III in field goal percentage (.900, 9-10) and 15th in field goals per game (1.13). His 48-yarder matches the 16th-longest kick of the season in Division III. Last year, Alberts had Division III’s longest boot with a school-record 55-yard kick.

Cornerback Tre Wilridge III (junior, Crowley, La., Tombstone, Ariz. HS) is 19th in passes defended (1.6 per game).

Record watch—Hawkins has taken over second place on the school career charts in pass completions with 409, 86 behind Tim Connell (2004-07). He’s also second in passing yards (5,542), third in total offense (6,601 yards) and took over the top spot in passing touchdowns Saturday (59). On the season records list, with three games remaining, Hawkins is sixth in pass completions (146), sixth in passing yards (1,865), third in passing touchdowns (24) and eighth in total offense (2,103).

Erik Knaack (junior, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) is up to a tie for eighth in pass reception touchdowns (16), 11th in pass receiving yards (1,321) and 13th in receptions (85). Knaack is eighth in season receiving yards (801). Robinson is tied for seventh in season pass reception TDs (10).

Alberts stands fourth in career extra points with 126 in 131 attempts (96.2%). For the year he’s 42-of-42 while also connecting on nine of 10 field goal tries. He’s fourth in career field goals (31), seven behind Jake Viggers’ mark of 38 (2007-10).

Notes– Central is still among those schools receiving votes in the AFCA Division III top 25 poll…The Dutch have now topped the 40-point mark in seven of their eight games, matching their season best. Central is averaging 41.8 points a game while giving up 25.3. The school scoring record is 43.5 set in 1989…Saturday’s 696-yard output marked the season’s fifth 500-yard game.