Stymied after gaining some early momentum, the Central College football team was outlasted by No. 10-ranked Coe College 34-13 Saturday.
Coe (10-0 overall, 7-0 Iowa Conference) entered the game leading Division III in turnover margin with plus 2.2 per game, but the Dutch (5-5 overall, 4-3 conference) forced a pair of quick miscues, and four for the game.
"I was really proud of our defense," coach Jeff McMartin said. "They were able to force turnovers all day. That was a big part of the game."
Freshman Bryan Mejia (Miami, Fla., Coral Gables HS) recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff and defensive back Jacob Tune (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) picked off a pass on Coe's first play from scrimmage. Central drives stalled on both possessions, but boosted by a stiff south wind, kicker Kevin Sheldon (sophomore, West Des Moines, Valley HS) drilled field goals of 47 and 44 yards, both exceeding his previous career best of 41 yards.
But then Coe went to work, driving 75 yards in 12 plays for its first score.
Central answered with a 16-play, 78-yard drive as Blaine Forsythe (sophomore, Pella) grabbed an 8-yard pass over the middle from Aaron Eiseler (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) and stretched into the end zone for a 13-7 Dutch lead with 12:21 left in the half.
But Coe struck twice in the final 5:03 of the second quarter with TD drives of 76 and 59 yards. The Dutch needed an interception in the end zone by Jacob Edleman (Mechanicsville, North Cedar HS) to halt a final first-half scoring threat.
Central scored on its first three possessions of the game, but was shut out the rest of the way. The Dutch were in Coe territory on five straight second-half possessions, only to come up empty.
"We just weren't able to score," McMartin said. "We had a lot of chances but we were unable to capitalize and that was the story of the game.
"Once we settled in, we played good football but the Coe defensive line is very good and their linebackers did a good job. They made it tough to run the football. They were able to make us one-dimensional and that makes it tough in the Red Zone."
Coe, meanwhile, got a pair of second-half TDs to put the game away.
But while the score was lopsided, the game wasn't, McMartin said. The Kohawks, who will advance to NCAA Division III playoff action next Saturday, outgained Central only 391 yards to 337. Coe had 162 rushing yards to Central's 100, while the Dutch had a 237-229 yard advantage in passing.
Eiseler completed 24 of 37 passes for 215 yards and one TD with one intereception. Senior Jack Flaherty (Burlington) led the Dutch on the team's final drive and completed a pair of throws for 22 yards.
Running back Ross Doehrmann (senior, Williamsburg) rushed for 76 hard-earned yards on 15 carries.
Brendon Boerm (freshman, Traer, North Tama HS), who started at quarterback early in the year, finished his freshman season as Central's receptions leader with 33. He had a team-high seven catches for 88 yards Saturday. Senior Ben Lechtenberg (Manchester, West Delaware HS) had five receptions for 36 yards and was Central's season receiving yardage leader with 392 on 29 catches.
Edleman had two interceptions on the day, giving him a team-high six for the season. Central, the league interceptions leader, had 19 overall.
Linebacker Mike Young (junior, Country Club Hills, Ill., Hillcrest HS) had 11 tackles while linebacker Luke Geneser (junior, Granger, Woodward-Granger HS) had 10 stops and Edleman had eight.
It was the final Central game for nineteen seniors who compiled a 30-11 record over four seasons with a conference championship and NCAA playoff berth.
"They're great kids and great leaders who never quit and always worked hard," McMartin said. "They had great careers and I'm thankful that I got to coach them."
But it's nonetheless a young Dutch squad as numerous underclass players were key contributors. There were just four seniors in the starting lineup on offense Saturday and only two on defense. Yet the team closed with a rush after dropping four of its first six games, claiming part of a five-way tie for second place in the league.
"I think we finished well," McMartin said. "You don't like to lose the last game, but the underclassmen should be encouraged. We went toe-to-toe with an undefeated football team and that's impressive. I feel good about this young football team. We need to continue to improve and if we can eliminate turnovers, that will help immensely.
"We've got some great kids who play hard on defense and we've got some playmakers on offense. We're excited about the future."