This time, the Central College football team found a way.
Frustrated by some games that got away in the season's first half, the Dutch made the plays that mattered in a 23-13 Iowa Conference win over Buena Vista Saturday.
The Dutch (3-3 overall, 1-2 conference) turned Buena Vista away from the goal line in the closing moments and cornerback Eric Larson (junior, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS) then swatted away a potential game-tying 23-yard field goal try. It was scooped up by linebacker Michael Young (senior, Country Club Hills, Ill., Hillcrest HS)who raced 85 yards for the decisive touchdown, leaving Buena Vista (0-6 overall, 0-3 conference) as the team left pondering the what ifs after a game the Beavers led much of the way.
"We've lost some close games," coach Jeff McMartin said. "We needed something to bounce back on, to feel good about and to turn the momentum back in our direction. We definitely captured some of that today. It's a great win for us and a hard-fought win. We're certainly happy to pull it out."
As McMartin warned, Buena Vista's record is not reflective of the team's ability. The Beavers were dominant in the early going and held a 212-71 halftime advantage in total yards. An eight-play 48-yard touchdown drive on the game's opening series and a 19-yard Tyler Stolen field goal at the start of the second quarter gave Buena Vista a 10-0 lead. The Dutch were fortunate it was that close as those scores sandwiched a 77-yard drive that ended with a fumble at the Central 5-yard line. Buena Vista quarterback Bobby Brown also had a second-quarter pass picked off by defensive back Jacob Edleman (senior, Mechanicsville, North Cedar HS). Edleman returned it 40 yards to the Buena Vista 5, setting up Central's only first-half score.Grant McArdle (senior, Red Oak, Stanton HS) caught a 5-yard TD toss by Aaron Eiseler (junior, Newberg, Ore., Red Mountain, Ariz. HS).
I credit our defense for keeping it close in the first half, because BV came out of the gate very strong and we didn't," McMartin said. "It's a credit to what our defense was able to do."
But powerful Buena Vista running back Dylan Barrett, who muscled his way to 70 yards on 16 carries, missed the second half because of injury. Meanwhile the Dutch defense stiffened and the offense gained its footing. Yet not before BV stretched its lead to 13-6 on a 38-yard Stolen kick on the Beavers' first drive of the second half.
Kevin Sheldon (junior, West Des Moines, Valley HS), who earlier missed his first extra-point try since 2011, answered with a 35-yard field goal to make it 13-9 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
A 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive finally put the Dutch on top with 10:25 remaining in the game.Blaine Forsythe (junior, Pella) made a diving catch in the end zone on a 12-yard Eiseler pass.
"We knew that BV was not going to just let us run the ball all day," McMartin said. "We've got to keep working to get better at that. We felt like there were things in the passing game that we could go to and we were able to do that. We probably ended up throwing a little bit more than we went into the game plan thinking we would have to. But credit our receivers and credit Aaron (Eiseler) and the protection. For the most part we executed pretty well."
But Buena Vista, which was masterful at converting on 3rd and long, assembled an 18-play drive that consumed 8:45 and began to appear destined to give the Beavers their first win at Pella since 1979. Buena Vista converted on three third downs on the series, including 3rd and 16, and got a third down pass interference call in the end zone on the Dutch 5-yard line. That gave Buena Vista first down at the 2, but the Dutch twice stopped running back Cody Cole for no gain and then defensive end Danny Samson (senior, Baxter, CMB HS) delivered Central's fourth sack of the day.
"Another huge thing was the tough-mindedness of our defense on the goal-line," McMartin said. "To think you've got them stopped on the five and then get a penalty on third down and have to stop them three more times can be deflating. But they came back and did it. That whole series was critical."
The stops set up the 23-yard field goal try that produced Larson's block and Central's clinching TD.
"Eric Larson has played tremendous all season and this was just another example of his playmaking ability," McMartin said. "We felt like we just missed a block on the last one."
Larson, the reigning Division III indoor heptathlon and outdoor decathlon national champion in track and field, got his second block of the season.
"He blocks them all the time on us in practice," McMartin said. "He's got the gift of speed, size and talent. Not everybody can do that."
Buena Vista held a lopsided statistical advantage, gaining 397 yards to Central's 212. BV held a 24-15 edge in first downs, rushing for 108 yards and passing for 289 as Brown completed 19 of 39 passes.
"BV is a good football team," McMartin said. "We told our players all week that their record is not indicative of the quality of players they have.
Central rushed for 147 yards, including 42 by Josh Osborn (junior, Burlington). Eiseler completed 20 of 34 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
"Yards, first downs and stats often don't tell the whole story," McMartin said. "We've been in both situations, where we've had more yards and things and haven't won and games like this where we have. It's about making key plays at critical times. That's ultimately what football is about."
Aside from the final score, the big stat that leaned in Central's favor was turnovers as the Dutch held a 2-0 edge. Buena Vista was nine of 15 on 3rd down conversions but Central was effective as well, converting 10 of 16.
Central is at home again next Saturday, meeting Luther College in a 1 p.m. league game at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium. Luther is 2-4 overall and 1-2 in the league after Wartburg stopped its upset bid at Decorah Saturday, 24-21.