PELLA—Attaining yet another milestone in a memorable season, for the first time in 12 years, the Central College football team prepares for a second-round NCAA Division III playoff game, as well as one of the most powerful foes it’s faced in that span.
The biggest comeback in school history last week propelled the No. 23-rated Dutch (10-1) to a match-up at No. 3 juggernaut Wheaton College (Ill.). Game time is noon at McCully Stadium in Wheaton, Illinois. Central roared back from a 31-7 halftime deficit for a 38-37 overtime conquest of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh at Pella Saturday while Wheaton made quick work of Martin Luther College (Minn.) 51-7 at home as the 32-team playoff field was whittled to 16.
Saturday’s winner advances to the quarterfinals Dec. 7 against the winner of Saint John’s University (Minn.) (10-1) at Chapman University (Calif.) (10-0). The Division III title game is slated for Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Texas.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for students.
On the air and online—The Voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call Saturday’s action on KRLS-FM (92.1), with former Central defensive coordinator Don De Waard providing the color. The KRLS pregame show will air at 11:35 p.m. The broadcast can be accessed through www.kniakrls.com or directly at rdo.to/krls. It’s also accessible via mobile device with the KRLS app available through iTunes and other outlets.
On Mondays, Castle plays host to coach Jeff McMartin on the KRLS Coaches’ Corner at 7 p.m. Those broadcasts are also available on demand through www.kniakrls.com.
Twitter users can get updates through @CentralDutch. Live stats can be accessed through ncaa.com.
The series—Central and Wheaton haven’t met since 1940. The Dutch hold a 2-0 advantage in the teams’ series.
NCAA experience—Wheaton is making its 11th NCAA Division III playoff experience and its first since 2016, with a playoff record of 15-10. It’s the 10th berth for coach Mike Swider, in his 24th year as head coach and his 35th on the Wheaton staff. He’s compiled a 208-51 record.
This is Central’s 21st NCAA playoff appearance, the fifth for McMartin and the program’s first since 2009. Now in his 16th season, McMartin previously led Central to berths in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, upping his record to 3-4 after Saturday’s victory. He was named the American Rivers Conference coach of the year Tuesday, the fourth time he’s received the honor.
Central received an automatic berth to the field after sharing the league title and winning its head-to-head match-up with co-champion Wartburg College Nov. 2. It’s a record 31st conference crown for the Dutch.
Central has the fourth-highest number of playoff appearances in Division III history, trailing only the University of Mount Union (Ohio) (30 years), Washington & Jefferson College (Pa.) (26 years) and Saint John’s University (Minn.) (25 years). The Dutch have a 22-19 playoff record, winning the 1974 Division III crown and making three appearances in the championship game at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl (1974, 1984, 1988).
Despite the program’s history, last weekend marked the first playoff appearance for any current Central players. McMartin said they maintained a good approach.
“I think they handled it really well Saturday,” he said. “The first half (deficit) wasn’t because they were star-struck or anything like that. They’ve been very good about going through their week and trying to get better. Even after Saturday, we’re going to go through this week trying to improve. Our players have the same mindset. They want to get better. They handled week one about as well as you could for a group of guys who had not gone through that yet.”
The Thunder—Wheaton has run roughshod over this year’s schedule, outscoring opponents by an average of 48.1 points to 6.3 en route to a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) title. The defense ranks as Division III’s stingiest in scoring and yardage allowed (180.6) while the offense ranks eighth nationally in scoring. Wheaton is fourth in Division III in rushing defense (57.5 yards), pass defense (123.2), third down conversion percentage defense (23.8) and first downs allowed (119). The Wheaton defense has scored six touchdowns, ranking second in the country.
The Thunder is also first in Division III in kickoff returns (30.9 yards) while ranking ninth in kickoff return defense (13.7 yards).
The squad made a quick impression on McMartin.
“Wheaton has great team speed and some really good athletes,” he said. “It’s a very talented team. They have a lot of weapons on both sides of the ball. But when you get to the playoffs, you’re going to play good teams. What we’re going to have to do is play to our strengths and prepare ourselves to play a great game.”
Wheaton sophomore quarterback Luke Anthony is fifth in Division III in passing efficiency (184.9), 16th in completion percentage (67.1) and 18th in TD passes (28). Senior John Bickle ranks 14th in punting (40.7 yards).
Sophomore running back T.J. Williams is averaging 90.8 yards, gaining 817 yards on 125 carries with six touchdowns. Anthony has completed 145 of 216 passes (67.1%) with just three interceptions for 2,121 yards and 24 touchdowns. Senior receiver Adam Terrini and junior Phillip Nichols each have 46 catches with Terrini gaining 821 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns.
“They have really talented wide receivers,” McMartin said. “They’ll give you different formations and motion, move them around a little bit. Their running backs look very fast. The quarterback makes good throws and good decisions. Their line is big and athletic. They’re having a great season. They’ve answered each test.”
Junior middle linebacker Ryan Schwartz has 63 tackles, including 6.0 for loss while sophomore outside linebacker Wyatt Lee has 47 with 8.0 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Senior nose tackle Dallas McRae has 15.5 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. Senior cornerback Spencer Rowland has three interceptions and 11 pass breakups.
“Up front they have defensive linemen who have made a lot of great plays,” McMartin said. “Their linebackers complement what they do. They’ve got speed, they can go sideline to sideline and their outside people cover very well. Their secondary plays a lot of match-up, either man coverages or zone coverages. They run with people and are not afraid to pressure you. We’re going to have to be good up front and then get ourselves open and be able to make some plays.”
National ranking — In the final Division III West Region rankings, which are used in determining playoff pairings, the Dutch were rated No. 5. Wheaton was No. 2 behind Mount Union in the North Region.
Central is No. 23 in the AFCA rankings and No. 24 in the D3football.com poll. Wheaton is No. 3 in both polls.
The Kuyper Comeback — The Dutch orchestrated some magic moments in the frenzied rally to overtake Wisconsin-Oshkosh Saturday at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium in Central’s A.N. Kuyper Athletics Complex. It was Central’s second overtime victory in three weeks after getting a 2-point conversion to knock off Wartburg College 57-56 in Pella Nov. 2. Saturday Central sent the game to overtime when quarterback Blaine Hawkins (junior, Ankeny) eluded a relentless Titans pass rush to loft a 34-yard precision strike over a pair of defenders to Erik Knaack (junior, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) in full stride in the corner of the end zone with only 15 seconds remaining.
But the win was secured in overtime on a Wisconsin-Oshkosh 2-point conversion try. Strong safety Jordy Borman (senior, Eagan, Minn.) stretched out just enough to get his fingertips on Kobe Berghammer’s pass and deflect it away from an open receiver.
“Jordy made a special play,” McMartin said. “We were man-to-man and the guy he was defending didn’t go out. He stayed in to block. Jordy throughout his career has had a great feel for finding the ball and being in the right place. He just stayed where he needed to stay and when the ball came his way, he extended, knocked it away and that was a game-saving play. We talk a lot about how the great competitors are at their best when their best is needed and Jordy is a great competitor. He wants the ball to come his way. He had an opportunity to make a play and he did a great job. It’s something he’ll never forget and our team will never forget.”
Just as the Dutch had to quickly forget the rocky first half Saturday, they have to put the late-game fireworks behind them as well. McMartin is confident they will.
“A lot of the games we’ve played this year have been exciting games and important wins, but we have a way of going through our week,” he said. “Our players will watch film and they’ll get focused on Wheaton and the challenge that we have. I think our coaching staff and players do a really good job of that. We won’t walk on the practice field thinking about Saturday. We’re going to be locked in on what we have to do in this game.”
But a slow start — Central’s previous comeback record of 20 points was set Oct. 5, 2002. The Dutch trailed Coe College 20-0 with 13:00 remaining in the fourth quarter and won 21-20. While celebrating Central’s remarkable second half Saturday, McMartin wasn’t overlooking the first-half struggles that necessitated it.
“I didn’t realize until after the game that that was the biggest comeback in our school’s history,” McMartin said. “You don’t want to be in that category because you’re behind but at the same time, it’s great because it shows you can overcome something like that. That will be the thing that we focus on with our players, that we’re never out of a game because we don’t focus on the score, we focus on the plays and being in the now as opposed to worrying about the outcome.”
He applauded the effort.
“I think this team has a lot of heart,” McMartin said. “They’ve learned another lesson from Saturday and the important thing is that they apply these lessons that they’re learning. We will be a focused football team. We will give the effort we need to be our best and I think they’ll also have the belief in themselves that this can be done. You can come back.”
A November to remember — While the season’s most daunting assignment looms, McMartin said the Dutch are simply happy to be playing and will always savor a November that saw them score a 57-56 overtime victory over previously unbeaten Wartburg College, clinch a league co-championship at Coe College and then notch last week’s record-setting playoff triumph.
“We’re enjoying every day,” he said. “We’re enjoying the chance to practice together and play together as a team. I think we’ve been very mindful of enjoying each day throughout the season. I even look forward to preseason camp. I like August and the process of just getting better each day and focusing on us. Then you get to the season and it goes so fast. You get in a routine and the next thing you know, you look up and it’s Friday already and you have a game the next day. And then when you’re moving along and you’ve had a November like we’ve had, you never want it to end.”
NCAA numbers — Central remains number one in Division III in red zone offense (94.1%, 48-51) . The Dutch are eighth in total offense (494.9 yards per game), fifth in first downs (275), 11th in third-down conversions (51.2%, 83-162), 16th in scoring (41.9 points), 14th in pass completion percentage (66.5%, 245-368-14), 17th in passing efficiency (170.80) and 24th in passing yards (294.6 yards).
Individually, Hawkins, who was named the American Rivers offensive player of the year Tuesday, is second in points responsible for (28.2), third in passing touchdowns (42), eighth in total offense, (327.9 yards per game), 11th in passing efficiency (174.1), 13th in passing yards (3,095) and 17th in pass completion percentage (66.8). He’s completed 234 of 350 passes with 12 interceptions and 42 TDs. He’s also Central’s second-leading rusher with 530 yards on 124 carries with nine scores.
Hawkins is also the conference total offense leader (330.2 yards).
Wide receiver Hunter Robinson (senior, Lisbon) is 14th nationally in punt returns (12.9 yards per return) and is the league leader as well. He’s also tied for 14th in Division III in touchdown catches (14) with Knaack.
Three-time first-team all-conference kicker Jon Alberts (senior, Huntley, Ill.) is third in Division III in field goal percentage (91.7, 11-12) and 21st in field goals per game (1.00). He kicked a 48-yarder this year and last year had Division III’s longest boot with a school-record 55-yard kick.
Record watch—Hawkins set Central’s career pass completions record Saturday and now holds most of the school career passing marks. He has records for passing yards (6,689), touchdown passes (77), total offense (8,130 yards) and touchdowns responsible for (101). He’s completed 497 of 755 passes (65.8%) with 20 interceptions.
On the season list, Hawkins broke records Saturday for completions (234) and passing yards (3,102) and also ranks first in TD passes (42), total offense (3,632) and TDs responsible for (51). He’s completed 234 of 350 passes (66.9%) with 12 interceptions.
Hawkins has twice thrown for a record six touchdowns in a game this fall and set the single-game passing yards mark of 421 yards (24-28-0) and total offense record of 499 yards at Simpson Nov. 2.
Knaack has moved into fifth in career receiving yards (1,885), seventh in receptions (112) and tied for fifth in TD receptions (23). Robinson, who saw limited action in his first three seasons, is nonetheless 10th in career TD catches (15).
Knaack moved into second Saturday in season pass receiving yards (1,074), still 141 yards behind Sam Markham’s 2016 record. He’s the third receiver in school history to top the 1,000-yard mark. Markham did it twice (2016, 2017) and Chris Johnson attained it in 1998. Johnson’s son, Brady Johnson (senior, Stanton), is a receiver on this year’s squad. Knaack is up to third in career pass receptions (64). He and Robinson share the school mark for TD receptions (14). Robinson, who also has a rushing touchdown, is tied for eighth in season touchdowns (15) and stands ninth in points (94).
Alberts is third in career field goals (33) and extra points (142), and sixth in career scoring (241 points). With at least a game remaining, he’s second in career extra-point percentage at 96.6 (142-147) and first in career field goal percentage at 89.2 (33-37).
For the year, Alberts has a school-record 58 extra points in 58 tries and is 11-12 on field goals to rank first in percentage in both categories. He’s fifth in season field goals after setting the record of 14 in 2017.
Notes—This is Central’s 18th 10-win season and the first since the Dutch went 10-1 in 2009. Central first played a 10-game regular-season schedule in 1994 but reached 10 wins nine times prior to that due to playoff victories …This is the fourth meeting for Central against a CCIW school in playoff action. The previous three were all against Augustana College (Ill.) (1984, 1985, 1988), with Central winning the most recent one…The Dutch have topped the 40-point mark in eight of their 11 games, the most in school history.…Central has had six 500-yard games…Central’s last second-round playoff win was a 37-7 victory over Saint John’s (Minn.) in a 2007 game at Pella… Hawkins has passed or thrown for a touchdown in all 11 games this year. He’s thrown for three or more touchdowns in nine…Central has three receivers with more than 40 catches for the first time in school history and is approaching putting three at the 50-reception mark. Knaack has 64, Robinson has 56 and Tanner Schminke (junior, Boone) has 48…This is Central’s 12th game of the season, but only the fifth road appearance.