In a game of wild momentum shifts, the final swing went Central College's way and the Dutch football team stunned Wartburg College, 31-28 Saturday.
Central scored on its first three possessions and held a commanding 31-14 lead with less than 6 minutes remaining, but a furious Wartburg comeback had the Knights on the brink of a shocking victory in the final minute. Facing fourth-and-2 at the Central 12, Wartburg quarterback Logan Schrader hit Reese Thompson in the flat and he scampered into the end zone for an apparent go-ahead TD. But the Knights were flagged for a holding penalty at the 2-yard line.
That set up another fourth-and-2 play at the 12. This time Schrader, under pressure from the Dutch defense, threw to the opposite side of the field before receiver DJ Looft had completed his route and the ball fell to the turf with 44 seconds left in the game.
Central (5-4 overall, 4-2 Iowa Conference) was able to run out the clock to secure the win which assures the Dutch of at least a .500 season, extending the elite program's run of years without a losing campaign to 52. Central has one game remaining in the season.
The Dutch were on the brink of wrapping the game up after freshman linebacker Zac Miller (Kansas City, Mo., Liberty North HS) recovered a fumble at the Wartburg 32 with 8:25 left. It was the Knights' sixth turnover of the day. Central moved to the Wartburg 13, only to make its fourth turnover, a fumble at the 15. One play later, the Knights got an 85-yard touchdown reception by Looft with 5:15 left.
Wartburg drove 48 yards in seven plays on its next possession to make it 31-28 with 1:53 left, then recovered an onside kick at the 50. In just two plays, the Knights had a first down at the 20 setting up the final-minute drama.
The momentum was all Central's early. After slow starts in several games this season, the Dutch burst out of the blocks with touchdowns on the team's first three possessions for a 21-7 first-quarter lead. Quarterback Aaron Eiseler (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) completed seven of 10 first-quarter passes for 112 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 46 yards on five carries.
Running back De'Andre Currie got a 5-yard TD run on Central's opening possession after a 40-yard return of the opening kickoff by Brendon Boerm (freshman, Traer, North Tama HS).
Then Eiseler threw a perfect strike to Grant McArdle (senior, Read Oak, Stanton HS) for a 22-yard score and running back Ross Doehrmann (senior, Williamsburg) got a 1-yard TD.
Currie added a tackle-breaking 33-yard TD dash with 5:21 left in the second quarter and it was 28-14 Central at halftime.
"We got off to a very fast start and we needed that," coach Jeff McMartin said. "If you look at Wartburg's season, they've been a very good first-quarter team. I thought our guys just executed well. We had a good game plan and we were able to execute that. That was a very big part of the game."
But it was a second half of missed opportunities for the Dutch. Kevin Sheldon (sophomore, West Des Moines, Valley HS) booted a 30-yard field goal for the only scoring of the third quarter. But the Dutch then had a 32–yard field goal try blocked, were stopped on fourth down at the Wartburg 27 and lost the ball on an interception and a fumble deep in Knights' territory.
"There are a lot of things we're going to look at the film on and say, 'Man, a play here or a play there offensively could have helped our cause and probably could have put the game away," McMartin said. "We had chances and the defense did a great job of giving us chances. But I'm very happy with how we just kept battling."
Wartburg's late-game flurry allowed the Knights to outgain Central 508 yards to 338. Schrader completed 28 of 49 passes for 405 yards and two touchdowns but was intercepted three times. Wartburg also gained 103 yards on the ground.
But Central racked up 151 yards rushing against the Knights, who ranked fourth in Division III for rushing defense, allowing just 56.8 yards a game. Doehrmann had 70 yards on 14 attempts and Currie rushed for 40 yards and two scores on just six carries.
Eiseler finished 15-of-24 for 187 yards with three interceptions, but was sacked seven times. Tight end Jack Norgaard (sophomore, Naperville, Ill., Neuqua ValleyHS) had four catches for 42 yards and Ben Lechtenberg (senior, Manchester, West Delaware HS) had three receptions for 49 yards.
Central controlled the ball for 34:32 of the game's 60 minutes, including 18:30 in the second half.
Strong safety Jacob Tune (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) had 10 tackles and an interception. Linebackers Luke Geneser (junior, Granger, Woodward-Granger HS) and Andrew Weaks (senior, Fulton, Ill.) each had nine tackles. Weaks was back in action after being sidelined by injury for several games. The Dutch also got interceptions from free safety Jacob Edelman (junior, Mechanicsville, North Cedar HS) and cornerback Eric Larson (sophomore, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS).
After a bumpy 2-4 start and a host of injuries, particularly to the defense, the young Dutch have rallied to put together a three-game win streak.
"If you look at where we came from at the beginning of the year, to do what we've done right now says a lot about the character of our guys," McMartin said. "They just kept believing, kept battling and just kept trying to get better every day. I think there's a big lesson in that of just working to improve. We had a situation where our backs were kind of against the wall. We had a lot to battle through. Then to go on the road and win at Luther was big and to come back here and beat Loras and now to win this game, it feels very good. This was a very important victory."
Central closes the campaign at Coe College in Cedar Rapids Saturday at noon. The fourth-ranked Kohawks (9-0) wrapped up the league title with a 35-7 win at Luther.
Defensive back Eric Larson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIqAbNe2Pio&list=UUKZT_0g2nkHBbL3qIDlNpQA&index=2&feature=plcp
Coach Jeff McMartin: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNdnc1fspwo&feature=youtu.be
KRLS RADIO AUDIO OF FINAL WARTBURG PLAY