Central College scored five touchdowns but it was a pair of late second-quarter defensive stands that were the game-turners in a 35-14 Dutch football win at the University of Dubuque Saturday.
Central remained perfect at 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the American Rivers Conference. It was the first Dutch win at Dubuque since 2009.
Twice in the closing 3 minutes of the first half Dubuque had first downs inside the Central 10-yard line and twice the Spartans were turned away. Dubuque (2-2 overall, 1-1 conference) had first-and-goal at the Central 5 but was denied after four shots with 1:54 left. The Spartans quickly regained possession and pushed to the Central 1-yard line but were stymied twice from there, including on a fourth-down quarterback sneak attempt that ended the half.
That preserved a 14-0 halftime lead which the Dutch extended to 28-0 after three quarters. It was the second straight week that Central posted a shutout for the first three periods.
"From a momentum standpoint, that was really critical," coach Jeff McMartin said. "That took a tremendous effort. The defense just kept answering great challenges. That shows a lot of mental toughness."
The Dutch were on top despite being on the short end of the field position battle much of the first half. Central's average starting position in the half was its own 18-yard line.
"We got fourth-down stops, we knocked down a lot of passes and we forced some turnovers," McMartin said. "You have to give the defense total credit. We played extremely well in tough situations in a tough environment."
Meanwhile, the Dutch pounded out 472 yards of offense, including 245 on the ground. Senior running back Nathan Fitzgerald (Elkader, Central HS) rushed for a season-high 111 on 23 carries with two touchdowns. Quarterback Blaine Hawkins (sophomore, Ankeny) passed for 227 yards and a touchdown, completing 19 of 28 throws. He also rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. But he saw his streak of 212 passes without an interception end, as he threw a pair of third-quarter picks, his first since Oct. 7, 2017.
Central's defense also got three interceptions, including two more from strong safety Jordy Borman (junior, Eagan, Minn.). He now has six for the season, which likely leads the NCAA Division III. He was second in the nation heading into the game. Borman initially entered the lineup in the season opener because of a preseason injury to starter Tate Jensen (senior, De Soto, ADM HS), who has since returned to action.
"Jordy played really well," McMartin said. "Getting Tate back has really helped our defense and (free safety) Collin Erickson (senior, Gilbert, Ariz., Dobson HS) is playing well."
McMartin also cited cornerback Trevor Smith (junior, Audubon), who had three pass breakups.
The secondary excelled despite not having three-year starting cornerback Danny Anderson (junior, Boone), who suffered a fluke injury in practice this week, McMartin said.
"I feel like the defense played tremendously hard," he said. "We handled not having Danny about as well as we could. We sure didn't want to see that happen but you're always going to have injuries at less-than-opportune times. But the defensive coaches put together a great game plan and the defense did a good job of executing it."
Anderson's replacement, Tre Wilridge (sophomore, Crowley, La., Tombstone, Ariz. HS), also had an interception.
Linebacker Tate O'Tool (junior, Fort Dodge, St. Edmond HS) had a game-high 13 tackles while linebackers Connor Lewin (junior, Stillman Valley, Ill.) and Drew Kithcart (senior, Atkins, Benton HS) each had 12. Borman and linebacker Jake Poster (senior, Davenport, Assumption HS) had seven stops each.
Dubuque gained 214 yards passing and rushed for 176, including 149 from star back Dwayne Allen, Jr.
Central took charge on its opening possession, driving 61 yards in seven plays for a 7-0 lead on Fitzgerald's 1-yard run. Borman's first interception set up a second-quarter score on a 21-yard grab of a Hawkins pass by Tylor Obermeyer (sophomore, Papillion, Neb., Papillion-La Vista HS).
A 10-yard sweep by receiver Tanner Schminke (sophomore, Boone) and a 15-yard Hawkins keeper made it 28-0 after three quarters. Dubuque finally got on the board with 14:18 left in the game, only to have Central answer 51 seconds later on a 34-yard Fitzgerald sprint.
McMartin liked Central's offensive balance, with a boost from the Dutch running game.
"That's what you want," he said. "Donny Groezinger (senior, Sulphur Springs, Texas, Eastland, Ill. HS) had some good catches and runs, Pat Gray (senior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS) ran really hard and Nathan Fitzgerald just kind of finished them off."
Groezinger had six pass receptions for 46 yards while Erik Knaack (sophomore, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) had five catches for 75 yards.
"Erik Knaack had another big day and Tylor Obermeyer had a great touchdown catch," McMartin said. "We got a lot of people involved. That makes for a good offense when you're that diverse."
Central returns to Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium for its homecoming game next Saturday against Buena Vista University at 1 p.m. The Beavers are 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the conference after a 35-14 home-field loss to Coe College Saturday. Central was upset at Buena Vista last year in overtime, 39-38.