PELLA — The team picked to share second place in the American Rivers is the next obstacle for Central College’s newly ranked football team Saturday.
In the preseason coaches’ poll, the University of Dubuque and the Dutch were picked to share the runner-up spot behind defending champion Wartburg College. Central is 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the league, debuting at No. 23 in the American Football Coaches Association’s Top 25 after outscoring Luther College 45-14 at Decorah Saturday. Dubuque is 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the league but coach Jeff McMartin said the record reflects a daunting early season schedule. The Spartans opened by traveling to the No. 3-ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, suffering a 42-7 setback and also fell to Wartburg and Simpson College. Both are unbeaten in conference play. Dubuque came back with a 20-14 victory over Coe College Saturday.
Game time is 1 p.m. Saturday at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium in Pella.
Saturday’s game marks the halfway point of Central’s 10-game regular season.
“With the plan we have for our season, we’re moving in a good direction, yet you’re only as good as your next game,” coach Jeff McMartin said. “I think we’ve seen some things develop for us. We have a better idea of the kind of team we are. I think that’s important because it allows you to know what you want to do more of or less of.”
Central won at Dubuque last year 35-13 after the Spartans prevailed in Pella in 2017. The Dutch lead the teams’ series, which started in 1930, 58-20-2.
McMartin is impressed with what he’s seen from Dubuque.
“They have another very talented football team,” he said. “They’ve played a tough schedule. They’ve had a tough non-conference schedule and they’ve had a tough conference schedule so far. I don’t think anybody’s looking at records. We’re watching film and our players know what a good team Dubuque is and what they have to do to prepare.”
The Spartans are averaging 198.0 yards passing and 115.8 yards on the ground.
“They’re very similar to last year,” McMartin said. “The one change is they have a new offensive coordinator, but most of what we’ve seen on film, their core plays and philosophy, are the same. But I think you have to be prepared to see some different things as well.”
Freshman running back Kordell Stillmunkes has gained 379 yards on 74 carries with four touchdowns, averaging 75.8 yards per game and 5.1 per carry. Junior quarterback Sean Duffy has completed 81 of 152 passes (53.3 percent) for 990 yards with 10 TDs and seven interceptions. Senior Kody Riemer is the top receiver with 23 catches for 377 yards and three scores.
“They’ve got a very good offensive line,” McMartin said. “They have some talented running backs. Their quarterback returns from last year and he does an outstanding job. He throws the ball well and he’s mobile. Their receivers are fast and have big-play ability. We’re going to have to work hard to make sure we don’t give up big plays.
“You’ve got to be really good up front because they’re going to test you. They’ve got a big offensive line. And on the back end you’ve got to make sure you’re sound and make them earn things.”
The Dubuque defense is giving up 163.8 yards rushing and 175.8 yards passing. Senior linebacker Chad Marsh has 40 tackles, including 27 solos and 4.0 tackles for loss while Junior linebacker Freddy Walton has 34 stops with 3.0 tackles for loss. The Spartans have recorded 13 sacks.
“They have a big defensive line,” McMartin said. “Their outside linebackers do a great job, they utilize them a lot in pressures and in coverages as well as stopping the run. They’ve got great team speed. Their defensive line creates a lot of movement. Their interior linebackers are solid football players. Their secondary has a lot of speed. We’ll see a lot of coverages and different looks. We’ve got to be prepared for those things.”
500 club—For the third time in four games, the Dutch topped the 500-yard mark in total offense Saturday at Luther, with 559.
Revised statistics left quarterback Blaine Hawkins with 321 passing yards, completing 24 of 32 passes with one interception and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Erik Knaack had a career-high 10 catches for 104 yards and three touchdowns. He has 14 TD receptions for his career, moving him into a tie for ninth place on the school charts. Hunter Robinson had six catches for 103 yards and one TD.
While Central’s video-game offensive numbers are catching attention, the Dutch defense is quietly progressing. Sophomore free safety Brayden Egli, in his first year in the secondary, had has best showing Saturday. with career-high 11 tackles, including eight solos, and a forced fumble.
“ He’s getting better each week,” McMartin said. “We needed him to step up and he has. Our goal is to see him improve each week.”
Defensive lineman Blade Durbala (junior, Blairstown, Benton HS) had nine tackles, with 3.0 for loss.
“Blade Durbala is having a great year,” McMartin said. “He’s really hard to block.”
There were plenty of other contributors Saturday as Central limited Luther to 324 yards.
“If you look at (outside linebacker) Tate O’Tool and the amount of effort he gave on each play.” McMartin said. “He’s another guy who really jumped out. (Strong safety) Jordy Borman also played a really solid football game and it was nice to see (cornerback) Tre Wilridge get an interception and swat some balls down. He made some very good plays for us in the secondary.
Freshman Cameron Bannister continues to accelerate his growth since moving to quarterback a few weeks ago. He gained 77 yards and a touchdown on 13 second-half carries off the bench. He also had two pass receptions for 22 yards.
“Cameron can throw it, he can catch it and he can run with it,” McMartin said. “(Offensive coordinator Ryan Maiuri) has done a great job of finding ways to utilize his talent. When he gets the ball he’s not easy to tackle. He’s got really good feet.”
With 238 rushing yards on 47 carries, the Dutch are developing a more balanced attack, McMartin said. Joey McIntyre, in his second start and his first season of college football, ran for 82 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries.
“We want to continue to develop as an offense all the way around,” McMartin said. “As our running backs get more experience and we get more plays under our belt, we’re seeing our running game improve and be a good complement to what we’re doing throwing the football.
“ We have a diverse offense and so it’s a matter of finding the things in the catalog that work well in various scenarios. I think we did a good job of getting the ball in different places, in different people’s hands and spreading it around. It wasn’t one person who shouldered that whole game. It was a team effort.”
Central ranks fifth in the NCAA Division III in passing efficiency (189.69), fifth in team pass completion percentage (71.9 percent), seventh in total offense (526.3 yards per game), eighth in third-down conversion percentage (53.2 percent), eighth in passing yards (342.7 yards per game), 12th in scoring (46.0) and 19th in red zone offense efficiency (90.9 percent).
Hawkins is second in pass completion percentage (91-123-3, 73.9 percent), second in passing efficiency (208.59), second in TD passes (19) and 10th in passing yards (324.0 yards per game). Robinson is 10th in touchdown receptions (8), 11th in punt returns (16.7 yards per return), 13th in scoring (12.0) and 18th in all-purpose yards (165.5).
Hawkins’ four TD passes Saturday matched the seventh-most in school history and give him 19 for the year, already surpassing his season total of 17 each of the past two years and ranking fourth on the school chart.
Hawkins is second on the school career charts in passing touchdowns with 54, only four shy of the mark set by Tim Connell (2004-07). Also on the career charts, he’s third in passing yards (4,883) and needs just 102 yards to pass Shad Flynn (1990-93) for second. He’s thrown for 1,296 yards this season. Connell is the all-time passing yardage leader with 6,181. Hawkins is fifth in pass completions (354) and eighth in career pass attempts (528).