PELLA — Erupting for four touchdowns in a 13-minute span, the Central College football team used a dominant second half for a 37-9 win over Luther College in an Iowa Conference opener Saturday.
The Dutch defense picked up the pace as well, pitching a second-half shutout.
With the offense struggling, it was a third-quarter punt return that provided the spark. Mike Furlong weaved his way to the Luther 14-yard line with a 27-yard return. Three plays later quarterback Nate Snead broke free for a nine-yard touchdown run and the Dutch were on their way, scoring TDs on their next three possessions as well.
"Both Brett (Wilkin) and Mike (Furlong) have a great history of being talented punt and kick returners," coach Jeff McMartin said. "They've been doing this for four years. They give a great effort and get us great field position."
Snead fueled the offense once again, rushing for a game-high 130 yards on 21 carries and two scores while completing eight of 20 passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
Defense got Central (2-1 overall, 1-0 conference) on the board, picking up a safety on an errant first-quarter punt attempt. Following a Luther field goal, Central regained the lead on Snead's 4-yard pass to tight end Cory Nikkel on the first play of the second quarter. It was Nikkel's first career TD reception.
But late in the half, Luther linebacker Kyle McGivney returned an interception 56 yards to the Central 4-yard line and Norse quarterback Chris Reynolds went in on the next play. However, Keith Rush blocked the extra point, making it 9-9 at intermission.
"We put ourselves in a bad situation, but what I'm really proud of, though, is that we blocked the extra point," coach Jeff McMartin said. "That made it a 9-9 game. I thought that was important."
Snead followed his third-quarter TD run with a 35-yard scoring strike to receiver Ben Lechtenberg, his first catch since 2009. A 4-yard Snead scoring run with 12:30 left in the game was followed by a 1-yard TD burst by promising freshman running back Josh Osborn. Osborn set up his own score with a 21-yard dash to the 1.
McMartin said Luther had much to do with Central's slow start.
"Credit Luther, they did a great job in the first half," McMartin said. "They're well coached and they played very hard.
"At halftime we went in and made a few adjustments both offensively and defensively, but most importantly, it was just a matter of keep playing hard. The longer we play and the harder we play, the more opportunities we're going to get."
Central finished with 383 yards total offense to Luther's 240. Two Luther quarterbacks completed 21 of 39 passes for 160 yards but the Norse were limited to 80 yards rushing.
Rush and fellow linebacker Seth Carson each had 11 tackles. Rush had 2.5 tackles for loss while Carson had 1.5 sacks. Linebacker Ryan Steinkamp had seven stops.
S-back Preston West rushed for 59 yards on 12 carries, 2 yards shy of his career best. Jeremy Snead and Wilkin each had two pass receptions.
Central travels to the University of Dubuque next Saturday for a 1 p.m. game. The Spartans took a 2-0 overall record into a Saturday night game with Loras College.