PELLA, Iowa — It's a new season but the Central
College football team is already displaying a familiar trait,
coming from behind in the second half for a 34-28 victory over
Wis.-Oshkosh in the opener for both squads.
A 21-point second half helped the Dutch rally from a 14-13 halftime deficit. It Marked the 11th time in the past three years that the Dutch have emerged victorious after trailing.
Coming off a banner season, quarterback Nate Snead was in top form again, passing for two touchdowns and running for two more. He completed 15 of 22 passes for 257 yards while rushing for 76 yards on 16 carries.
Snead's 36-yard strike to tight end Jordan Leuschen on Central's opening possession of the second half put the Dutch up to stay, 20-14. Then Snead's 1-yard sneak capped an 85-yard drive to stretch the advantage to 27-14 with 1:34 left in the third quarter. Yet the game remained in doubt until the final minute.
Wis.-Oshkosh needed just 2:12 to answer with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Nate Wara to Matt Haas. Snead followed with a 2-yard score to complete a nine-play, 81-yard march only to have the Titans' no-huddle offense strike again, using just 1:26 to score on Charlie Weissman's 4-yard run and it was 34-28.
Taking over with 7:16 left, Central drove to the Wis.-Oshkosh 38, consuming all but 1:10 of the clock before punting.
That's when the Dutch defense stiffened. Wara spun and weaved his way to 50 yards rushing on 18 carries while completing 17 of 24 passes for 179 yards but was finally reined in on the last series. On fourth-and-8, defensive lineman Aaron Steenhoek (senior, Pella) delivered the game-clinching sack.
"It was great to see the defense rise up and stop them when we needed to," coach Jeff McMartin said. "They were in kind of a tough spot there only being up six. You hate to put your defense out there in that situation. But I thought they did a great job making some key plays on third and fourth down."
Central outgained the Titans 442 yards to 295. The Dutch had 257 yards passing and 185 on the ground while Wis.-Oshkosh had 206 yards passing and 89 rushing.
Running back Ross Doehrmann rushed for 59 yards on 19 carries in his first collegiate start. Kyle Wood added 50 yards on seven attempts.
Jeremy Snead and Brett Wilkin each had four pass receptions for 60 and 41 yards, respectively. Leuschen had three catches for a career-high 103 yards.
But one traditional Central strength that was missing was special teams dominance. A fumbled punt helped set up Wis.-Oshkosh's first score and the Dutch also yielded a 53-yard kickoff return. But Central did get a blocked field goal by defensive lineman Shane Wong.
"We really need to help our defense a lot more with our special teams than we did today," McMartin said. "We put our defense in some tough spots, and give Oshkosh credit, they made plays.
"There are things we need to shore up so we can let our defense be the best it can be."
Linebacker Keith Rush had nine tackles for the Dutch while defensive back Ryan Schmidt had eight stops and linebacker Ryan Steinkamp had six.
"This was a very good start for us," McMartin said. "Wis.-Oshkosh is a very good football team and I want to give them a lot of credit."
McMartin liked the promise displayed by the younger members of the veteran squad.
"There were a lot of new faces who made a lot of plays for us," he said. "Our players prepared well."
He was also enthused about Central's offensive efficiency.
"We only punted twice all day," McMartin said. "When you only punt twice, that says you're probably moving the ball pretty well. We took the opportunities when we had them. There wasn't a lot of margin for error today. There were several times we had to score and we did. I was very happy with that."
Ranked No. 7 in the preseason by D3football.com, Central faces another stern non-conference challenge next Saturday, meeting perennial power Augustana College (Ill.) in a 6 p.m. game at Rock Island, Ill.