PELLA — Bidding for its first unbeaten regular season since 2009, the Central College football team travels to Storm Lake to take on high-scoring Buena Vista University.
Game time is 1 p.m. at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium.
The Dutch, who had an undefeated, albeit abbreviated, spring season with a 2-0 mark, are 9-0 overall and 7-0 in the American Rivers, having clinched an outright league title. It's a record 32nd conference championship for Central, which is riding an 11-game winning streak after racing past the University of Dubuque last Saturday, 56-7. The win also assures Central of its 22nd NCAA Division III playoff berth. The Dutch are ranked No. 10 in the AFCA Division III Coaches' Poll and No. 9 in the D3football.com Top 25.
Central didn't have its first undefeated regular season until 1966 but has posted 16 overall. The Dutch were 10-0 in 2009 before falling to Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) 42-40 in a first-round playoff game to close at 10-1. Under coach Jeff McMartin, Central was also unbeaten in 2006 and 2007.
"We talked about this with our players now that we're in a position to compete for an undefeated season," McMartin said. "Going undefeated puts you in a really small group of teams throughout the history of this program. And so, for our players and coaches, to have a season that you really want to leave your mark on, going undefeated is really special."
It also enhances the possibility of that first-round playoff game being played at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
"You can't control what the committee does or where they send you or who you play," McMartin said. "But you give yourself a better chance of a home game or a particular matchup if you're undefeated."
Playoff announcement—The Dutch will learn of their landing spot in the 32-team NCAA playoff field when pairings are announced Sunday at 4:30 p.m. with a selection show on NCAA.com. First-round games will be played at noon, Saturday, Nov. 20 at 16 campus sites.
Central second in region—Central is ranked second in its region behind North Central College (Ill.) in the NCAA Division III regional rankings, which are used to determine playoff pairings. There are six regions, but playoff pairings are not limited to in-region opponents. In 2019, the Dutch opened against the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
The series—Central was a 44-27 winner at Storm Lake in 2019 and last lost to the Beavers in 2017. The Dutch hold a 60-13 advantage in the series which kicked off in 1928.
But before worrying about playoff pairings…—McMartin and the Dutch have their focus locked in on Buena Vista. The Beavers mirror Central in some ways, with a high-scoring pass-oriented offense.
The Beavers are outscoring opponents 38.9 to 30.9 and outgaining them 432.4 yards to 338.1.
McMartin calls receiver Eric Pacheco a threat on every offensive play. He is the league leader with 72 receptions for 1,128 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's averaging 8.0 catches and 125.3 receiving yards per game. He ranks third in Division III in receiving yards, 10th in receptions per game and seventh in TD receptions. Pacheco also ranks sixth in Division III in punt returns, averaging 19.2 yards per return with one touchdown.
Quarterback Brandon Kyles is second in the league in passing yards, with 243.0 yards per game, completing 179 of 275 passes with 13 interceptions and 19 touchdowns. He's also seventh in rushing with 529 yards on 137 carries and seven touchdowns.
"He's a very talented quarterback," McMartin said. "As you watch him on film, you see he's getting better each week and each week you see him making plays with his both his arm and his legs. He's tough to slow down."
But Buena Vista is also averaging 178.8 yards rushing.
"They've got good balance in their offense," McMartin said. "Their running backs are doing a good job and they've got a really solid offensive line."
He said the Beaver defense is aggressive. Buena Vista is 10th in the NCAA Division III in interceptions with 16.
"They're very much a pressure team," he said. "They try to disrupt your rhythm and make you one-dimensional. They bring a lot of pressure from different places on just about every play."
National stats leaders--Central leads all divisions of the NCAA in total offense (620.3 yards), scoring offense (58.3), first downs (283) and passing efficiency (208.2).
Within Division III the Dutch are also first in passing offense (398.3) and completion percentage (.743), third in 4th down conversions (.773), third in fewest interceptions (1), fourth in punt return yardage allowed (0.33), tied for fifth in turnover margin (plus 1.67), 11th in Red Zone offense (.889), seventh in 3rd down conversions (.615) and seventh in fewest fumbles lost (2),
Quarterback Blaine Hawkins (5th-year, Ankeny) leads all NCAA Divisions in TD passes (45), completion percentage (.754), passing efficiency (219.0) and points responsible for (294). Within Division III, he's second in yards per pass attempt (10.78), fourth in passing yards (2,975) and fifth in total offense (349.2 yards).
Tanner Schminke (5th-year, Boone) is third in Division III in TD receptions with 13 and Erik Knaack (5th-year, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) is 13th with 11. Running back Jason Hopp (senior, Earlham) is ninth in yards per carry (7.33).
Conference records--Hawkins has 2,378 passing yards in seven league games and needs 398 yards Saturday to pass the conference record of 2,775 yards set by Tim Vinyard of Coe in a 10-game season in 2000. He's well ahead of Vinyard's average of 277.5 yards per game that year with a 339.7-yard average thus far. Hawkins broke the conference touchdown passes record of 35 set in 2011 by Wyatt Hanus of Dubuque and non has 39 TD passes in seven league games.
Team records tumbling—Central has set a new season passing yardage record with 3,585, topping the standard of 3,448 from 2019 as well as the touchdown passes record with 45, one more than in 2019. The Dutch have 260 completions, 11 shy of the school mark of 271 set in 2016. They're also closing in on the first downs record of 301 from 2016 with 283 thus far. Central has already topped the record for passing first downs with 162.
The Dutch are nearing the season total offense record of 5,704 yards from 2019 with 5,583 this year. They've blown past the season scoring record of 474 from 2019 with 525 in eight games. They're running well ahead of the scoring average record of 43.5 from 1989 with 58.3. They're also ahead of the average scoring margin of 34.5 (43.5-9.0, 1989) with 42.0 (58.3-16.3).
The team passing efficiency record of 166.5 from 2019 is all but erased with Central's current mark of 208.2. Likewise for the pass completion percentage record of 65.8 from 2019, with 74.2% so far in 2021.
Knaack record—With two touchdown pass receptions Saturday, Knaack broke Central's career record with 35, topping Sam Markham's total of 33 (2014-17). Schminke is two TD receptions away from Hunter Robinson's season mark of 15 from 2019.
Schminke has moved into sixth in season receiving yards with 973. Knaack is second in career receiving yards with 2,569 and in career receptions with 167. Schminke is sixth in career receiving yards with 1,921, tied for fourth in career receptions with 124 and tied for sixth in career TD receptions with 23.
More weekly honors—Hawkins was named the league's offensive player of the week for the fifth time this season and the 11th time overall while kicker Logan Sunvold (sophomore, Monroe, Southeast Polk HS) was picked for special teams honors for the third time.
Strong safety Cameron Bannister (junior, State Center, West Marshall HS) was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week after picking off two passes against Dubuque.
"Cam is a really good athlete who has been a big part of our defense," McMartin said. "He had a special year as a freshman offensively, then we felt like he could really help us improve on defense and solidify some things so we moved him over. He's pushed really hard to not only be a great tackler and know his assignments but to create takeaways. It's helped him be his best and it's made us a better defense."
McMartin said the entire secondary is making strides. Cornerback Brayden Egli (senior, Saint Charles, I-35 HS) is the Dutch leader in interceptions (4), punt returns (20 for 152 yards) and tackles (49.0). He's also made a team-high 26 solo stops with 3.0 tackles for loss and three pass breakups
"They're improving each week," McMartin said. "In this day and age of college football, you get challenged with the pass. As far as fitting in the running game, knowing their assignments, getting into their areas, making plays on the football, defending the pass and tackling people, they've improved each week and continue to get better. The longer we play, the better they're going to have to play."
Notes—Saturday's win marked the sixth time the Dutch have eclipsed the 50-point mark this season…The Dutch have a 15-2 advantage over opponents in interceptions and a 5-2 edge in fumbles recovered…Hawkins' record as a starting quarterback is 35-2.