PELLA—Still holding its ground in the Iowa Conference race, the Central College football team is at home for two of its final three regular-season games, starting with Saturday's contest against resurgent Loras College.
Game time is 1 p.m. at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
Central is 6-1 overall and is second in the conference at 4-1 after a 45-26 decision at Luther. Loras is 3-3 overall and 2-2 in league play following a bye weekend.
On the air, on the Web—Trevor Castle will call the play-by-play of Saturday's game on KRLS-FM (92.1) and the broadcast can also be accessed through Central's website at www.central.edu/athletics or through www.kniakrls.com.
A video webcast and live stats can also be viewed at www.central.edu/athletics. A delayed telecast is offered to Pella Mediacom customers through PTV 12 next Tuesday at 1 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m.
Rankings—There was a rankings shuffle following Wartburg's 31-21 victory at Coe Saturday. The win moved the Knights into the conference lead. Central remained at No. 15 in the AFCA Division III coaches' poll with Wartburg jumping to 16th and Coe sliding to 21st. But in the D3football.com rankings, Central tumbled from No. 9 to No. 18, with Wartburg at No. 13 and Coe at No. 16.
The series—Central was a 41-17 winner at Loras last year and leads the all-time series 26-5. Loras last defeated the Dutch in 2008.
The Duhawks—After losing three of its first four games, Loras won its last two games before a day off last Saturday. The Duhawks edged Buena Vista 17-14, then surprised cross-town rival Dubuque 14-6 Oct. 9.
Junior quarterback Vaughn Gesing has completed 74 of 140 passes for 837 yards with three touchdowns and eight interceptions. Senior John Ingersoll, a 6-foot-4 wide receiver, has 23 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Ryan Baez and Central transfer Matt Hillard form an effective running back tandem. Baez is averaging 61.3 yards per game with two touchdowns while Hillard is gaining 55.5 yards per game with six touchdowns and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
Junior linebacker Zach Myers is the tackle leader with 43, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Senior defensive end Cody Snitker has 39 stops.
Loras is averaging 123.3 yards rushing and 140.8 yards passing. The Duhawks are yielding 144.3 yards on the ground and 179.0 passing yards.
"Loras is a rapidly improving football team," coach Jeff McMartin said. "They looked really good the last two games. They're getting a lot from their quarterback and they have two good running backs. They also have good wide receivers who are big, tall, rangy guys.
"Their defense is always physical and they like to play a very physical style of football.
"But what's really caught our attention is how much better they've become in the last couple weeks."
Running wild—Central racked up a season-high 290 yards rushing Saturday at Luther. The Dutch ran the ball on 56 of 74 offensive plays, finishing with 402 yards total offense. Running back Kyle Wood (junior, Newton) came off the bench to gain a career-high 127 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown. Quarterback Nate Snead (junior, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) also had a career-best total with 101 yards on 21 attempts with two touchdowns. That's a few more carries than McMartin would prefer for his starting quarterback.
"(Luther) was giving us some things and giving some looks that allowed us to put the ball in Nate's hands," McMartin said. "He's a very talented running quarterback and that gave us the opportunity to keep the ball on the ground.
"We were in control of the game but Luther wasn't going away. We wanted to keep moving the ball on the ground."
While Luther was able to generate 353 yards of offense, McMartin saw some things he liked from the Dutch defense. Central, which had forced just six turnovers in the previous six games, came up with a fumble recovery, an interception and a blocked punt Saturday. All three plays led to Dutch touchdowns. Defensive back Ryan Schmidt (junior, Keswick, Tri-County HS) snagged Central's second interception of the season and returned the blocked punt for a TD.
"Ryan Schmidt had a really good game," McMartin said. "He made some big plays and we needed him to. The fumble recovery right before the half was also a huge play. Otherwise we would have gone in at halftime a lot closer."
Defensive lineman Austin Hill (senior, Carroll, Kuemper Catholic HS) had a career-high nine tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and blocked a field goal try.
"Austin has played well all season," McMartin said.
"He's playing the way you want a senior to play.
He's a force inside."
Michael O'Rourke (senior, Williamsburg) has been quietly effective this year and led Central Saturday with three receptions, including a juggling catch on the sidelines for a 31-yard gain on a second-quarter scoring drive.
"Michael O'Rourke has blocked well all season," McMartin said. "He had a good game. He showed great concentration on that catch. It was tipped but he stayed with it."
But aiming for better—McMartin was disappointed that his team committed eight penalties, although Luther was flagged for 11.
"Some of the penalties were physical things but some were just concentration things, like jumping offsides," he said. "We've done a good job of not having a lot of penalties most of the year. We've got to rise above that."
Heading into the season's stretch run, McMartin thinks his club's best football remains ahead.
"We want to continue to get better in each phase," he said. "We need to eliminate some mistakes we made Saturday. We can be better than what we were in that game. We need to be better."
Dutch numbers—Central is the conference leader in several categories. The Dutch are first in scoring (37.0 points), rushing (217.7 yards), pass efficiency (151.6), punt returns (10.8 yards), first downs (21.7), 3rd-down conversions (52. 6, 51-97) and 4th-down conversions (66.7, 10-15).
Snead is tied for first in scoring (12.0 points) while Mike Furlong (junior, Davenport, Assumption HS) is tops in punt returns (10.4 yards per return). Kicker Jake Viggers (senior, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) leads in field goals (7-11) and extra points (34-34).
Notes—Viggers ranks first in school history in career field goals (35) and second in career extra points (41). He leads in career extra point percentage (93.3, 141-151) and field goal percentage (74.5, 35-47). Punter Kurtis Brondyke (senior, Clinton) is third in career punting average (39.2 yards per kick)… Loras assistant Josh Edwards is a 2003 Central graduate. He's the son of associate athletics director John Edwards and his wife, Mary.