INDIANOLA, Iowa – Reid Ryan batted away Aaron Eiseler's pass attempt on 4th down with 1:20 left, one of a handful of big plays made by the defense down the stretch, and the Simpson football team held off Central, 14-10 on Saturday.
A 5-foot-9 corner, Ryan had to climb the ladder to knock the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot tall Brendon Boerm on a play that would have resulted in a first down for Central, which was facing 4th-and-17 at their own 37.
Clay Finley and Johnnie Sims set up the long-yardage situation after the tandem sacked Eisler for a 7-yard loss two plays before.
"We all just played really well as a team [defensively]," said Finley, who finished with seven tackles and 1.5 sacks. "We knew what the guy next to us was going to do and we really fed off each other."
Simpson sacked Eisler three times, hurried him twice and broke up four passes in the deciding fourth quarter, which saw Central turn the ball over on downs three times. Sims had 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss in the span as Simpson tallied seven of its nine tackles for loss in the final 15 minutes.
"Ultimately you have to get people in 2nd or 3rd and long and all of a sudden, your pass rush gets better," head coach Jim Glogowski said.
The Storm (3-2, 1-1 Iowa Conference) held Central to just 217 yards of total offense to notch back-to-back wins in the series for the first time since 1996-97. An overflow crowd enjoyed the win on Simpson's Homecoming and Family Weekend.
Taylor Nelson completed 17 of 27 passes for 171 yards and threw touchdown passes to Mike Kuhn and Jake McCulley, extending his streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass to 23.
The scoring toss to McCulley came with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter. Trailing 10-7 and facing 3rd and goal from the 2, Nelson ran a gutsy, play-action pass and found the big tight end in the back of the end zone. McCulley –a fifth-year senior who missed all of last year with a knee injury – held on while absorbing hits from a pair of defenders to give Simpson the 14-10 lead.
"That was just a huge individual effort for him to snag that ball," Glogowski said.
The catch was one of two remarkable grabs by McCulley, who also reached behind his body to make a one-handed grab on the home sideline earlier in the drive. He finished with three catches for 33 yards, all coming on the game-winning drive.
Nelson went 3-for-4 and rushed six times for 35 yards during the drive, including the 9-yard scramble that set up the winning score.
"He's our leader and we want the ball in his hands when a play has to be made," Glogowski said of his senior quarterback. "Giving him the ball gives us a chance no matter the down and distance."
Josh Osborn ran for 88 yards and Eiseler threw for 145 yards and a touchdown for the Dutch (2-3, 0-2), who stayed in the game with big plays on special teams. Kevin Sheldon gave Central a 10-7 lead with a 25-yard field goal in the third quarter after Michael Rus recovered a muffed punt at the Simpson 15. Central also blocked a Brian Schaaf field goal attempt in the third quarter.
Simpson came out of the special teams errors relatively unscathed, however. Central managed only three points following the fumbled punt despite great field position and went 3-and-out following the blocked field goal.
"Fortunately for us we were able to overcome it and we rallied and held on defensively at the end," Glogowski said of the special teams mistakes.
Entering the game with the league's top offense, Simpson scored on its first drive of the game when Nelson hooked up with Kuhn from 15 yards out. But three of the next seven possessions ended in punts as the offense failed to sustain a drive longer than 18 yards before the end of the third quarter. Eiseler led Central on a 68-yard drive to end the first half, tossing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Boerm to tie the game 7-7.
Ted Haag led the Simpson defense with nine tackles and a sack.
Simpson kicks off a two-game road trip next week when it travels to Dubuque to face Loras in a 1 p.m. kickoff. The Duhawks (1-4, 0-2) lost to No. 16 Coe 56-0 on Saturday.