Fri. Nov 26th, 2021

PELLA—It’s a playoff rematch but the Central College football team hopes it’s not a repeat when Wheaton College (Ill.) visits Saturday for a second-round NCAA Division III playoff game.

The teams also staged a second-round clash in Wheaton, Illinois in 2019. The Thunder took command early in dominating Central 49-13.

Game time is noon at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.

Many of the faces are the same on both squads. At 10-1, Wheaton is ranked No. 9 in the AFCA Division III Coaches’ Poll and No. 6 in the D3football.com Top 25. Central, 11-0, is ranked No. 10 by the AFCA and No. 8 by D3football.com. Wheaton advanced last week by rolling up a 63-31 home-field victory over Aurora University (Ill.) while Central outscored No. 17/12 Bethel University (Minn.) 61-35 at Schipper Stadium.

Wheaton’s only loss was a 20-7 decision Sept. 18 against No. 1-ranked North Central College (Ill.), the 2019 Division III champion. No other opponent has come closer than 30 points against the Thunder.

Coach Jeff McMartin doesn’t want his players dwelling on the 2019 loss, but they’re also not forgetting it. It was a disappointing ending to a championship season for the Dutch, 15 of whom opted to return for a fifth year of competition determined to make a better showing.

“Our approach is, let’s learn from it but not live in it,” McMartin said. “We did some things that day that made it really hard for us to win a football game. Wheaton has a great team again and there are certain things you just can’t do if you’re going to beat somebody like that.”

The hurdles get higher each week in the playoffs.

“This is the next step,” McMartin said. “We’ll need to improve from last week’s game and that’s our goal.”

The bracket–The winner of Saturday’s game advances to meet the winner of a second-round contest Saturday at Whitewater, Wisconsin between the No. 3-ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (11-0) and DePauw University (Ind.) (9-2). The quarterfinal will be played noon Saturday, Dec. 4 at a site to be determined. The 16 remaining playoff teams are playing for the right to compete in the championship contest, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, played Friday, Dec. 17 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium at Canton, Ohio. That game will air on ESPNU.

Ticket information–Tickets are $10 for adults with seniors and students paying $5. Children age 2 and under are admitted free. Spectators viewing the action from beyond the fences surrounding the stadium must purchase a ticket. Advance tickets can be purchased in the athletics office in P.H. Kuyper Gymnasium Wednesday from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and Friday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets will also be available when stadium gates open at 10:30 a.m. Saturday. All tickets are general admission and all transactions are cash only.

On the air and online—The Voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call Saturday’s action on KRLS-FM (92.1), with NFCA Hall of Fame softball coach George Wares providing the color and Andrew Schneider reporting from the sidelines. A special KRLS playoff pregame show will air at 11 a.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.

A video webcast of the action and live stats can be accessed via the Central athletics website at athletics.central.edu. Twitter users can get updates through @CentralDutch.
Castle also hosts “Coaches’ Corner” with coach Jeff McMartin each Monday at 6 p.m. on KRLS and is available on demand online.

Playoff experience— Central, which captured a record 32nd American Rivers Conference title, is making its 22nd NCAA Division III playoff appearance. The Dutch won the 1974 NCAA title and finished second in 1984 and 1988. Central is making its second consecutive trip to the to the second round and carries a 23-20 playoff record.

Wheaton is making its 12th NCAA playoff appearance, going 12-0 in first-round games and 17-11 overall.

The series—There was little drama in Central’s 2019 playoff encounter as Wheaton dominated the Dutch from the opening whistle, launching a 35-point first-quarter assault. Hawkins finally threw a TD pass midway through the second quarter to get Central on the board but Wheaton was in command 42-7 at halftime and 49-7 after three quarters. Central’s final score came on a 44-yard Hawkins pass with just 36 seconds remaining.

But Central leads the teams’ all-time series 2-1, posting wins in 1939 and 1940.

The coaches—The Wheaton head coach has changed since the 2019 meeting with Central. Jesse Scott, who arrived as offensive line coach in 2012, became recruiting coordinator in 2013 and took over as offensive coordinator in 2016, was named head coach following the 2019 season. Scott is 10-1 as head coach and 1-0 in playoff games.

Dutch coach Jeff McMartin, a member of the AFCA Board of Trustees, is in his 18th year, posting a 139-42 mark. He’s making his sixth playoff appearance as head coach with a 4-5 record.

The Thunder—Wheaton brings one of the nation’s most physical squads to Pella. The Thunder squad has posted three shutouts while limiting opponents to an average of 12.3 points a game. The Wheaton defense has made headlines card yet the team also ranks 10th in Division III in total offense with 500.4 yards per game while ranking 17th in total defense, yielding just 246.8 yards. Wheaton ranks fifth in scoring (50.1 points), 11th in rushing offense (264.5 yards) and 14th in first downs (254).

Senior quarterback Luke Anthony, who threw five TD passes against Central in 2019, is back. He’s completed 158 of 258 passes (.612) with 24 touchdowns and four interceptions, gaining 2,301 yards. He ranks 20th in passing efficiency (163.8) and 23rd in yards per completion 914.56). Anthony has also rushed 43 times for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

“He’s continued to improve,” McMartin said. “He’s a dual-threat guy and he throws it very well. He runs well, he extends plays, he can scramble and he can hurt you on zone reads..”

Powerful running back Giovanni Weeks has gained 1,365 yards on 161 carries, which ranks 10th in Division III. His 8.48 yards per carry ranks second nationally and he’s rushed for with 20 touchdowns, which ranks fourth. Back-up Sam Singleton has gained 623 yards on just 67 carries (9.3 yards per carry) with eight scores. Receiver Adam Terrini has 45 receptions for 622 yards and nine TDs while tight end Spencer Peterson has 13 touchdown catches, which ranks 10th nationally, among his 31 receptions for 481 yards.

“Their tailback is unlike any tailback we’ve seen,” McMartin said. “He’s got breakaway speed. He doesn’t have a lot of carries but he has a lot of yards. He’s outstanding and their receivers are all very solid. They run really good routes and have great speed.

“Their tight end (Peterson) is a transfer and he’s 6-6 and he’s very good.”

The Wheaton defensive front is nearly impenetrable, yielding a miserly 37.2 yards a game on the ground, which ranks second in Division III. The Thunder defense also ranks first nationally in quarterback sacks (4.36 per game), fifth in tackles for loss (8.8), 28th in interceptions (15) and eighth in defensive touchdowns (6). Wheaton is 27th in fewest first downs allowed (149).

Middle linebacker Ryan Schwartz has 82 tackles with three interceptions while defensive tackle Dallas McRae was the D3football.com national defensive player of the year in 2019 and has 44 tackles with 19 tackles for loss including 10 sacks, along with five pass breakups. Nose tackle Jake Holaday has nine sacks and eight breakups and defensive end River Shindledecker has 7.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries. Cornerback Caleb Egbert has four interceptions, returning three for touchdowns.

“They are still very big up front on both sides of the ball,” McMartin said. “They’re not giving up a lot of rushing yards to anybody. They work hard to make you one-dimensional and from tackle to tackle on either side of the ball, they have very good football players. They’re big, strong and fast.”

McMartin said the defensive front is talented enough that it doesn’t need to blitz, but still will.

“They keep you off balance,” he said. “They do pressure a lot. Their secondary is so sound that they can bring pressure and still feel like they can cover people up. They will bring pressure and that’s part of stopping the run game but also speeds up the clock for the quarterback, making him uncomfortable.”

Wheaton excels in special teams play as well, sharing the national lead in blocked kicks with 12 and ranking 21st in kick return defense (14.44 yards). Outside linebacker Jalen Shaffer leads Division III with eight blocked punts. Punter John Bickle and kicker Tommy Gallagher were both first-team all-conference picks. Bickle is averaging 44.6 yards per punt while Bickle is 9-of-14 on field goal attempts with a long of 52 yards.

Wheaton had 15 players receive all-conference honors.

First-round lessons—McMartin saw much he liked in Central’s first-round win over Bethel (Minn.).

“I was really happy with the way we played and competed,” he said. “Obviously that’s the most talented team through 11 games that we played and I was happy with how hard our guys played for four quarters. We had some really good performances and it was a great atmosphere.

“It’s like every other sport when you play on the national stage, you’re playing a higher-quality opponent. There are things you must do in order to advance. You need to get used to everyone being that quality and stay mentally focused, not letting that get you off your picture.”

Seven games at Schipper Stadium—Central is playing its seventh home game in a season for the ninth time. The Dutch played eight home games in 1987 and 2007. Every opportunity to play at Schipper Stadium is special, McMartin said.

“The players are really looking forward to playing at home,” he said.

This will be the 28th NCAA playoff game played at Schipper Stadium, which was known as A.N. Kuyper Stadium prior to 2006.

Nation-leading numbers–Central leads all NCAA divisions in total offense (609.3 yards per game), passing efficiency (205.28) and first downs (339) while also leading Division III in passing offense (400.7 yards) and completion percentage (.730). The Dutch are second in Division III in scoring offense (58.6), fifth in punt return defense (0.43 yards), sixth in Red Zone offense (.899) and 17th in turnover margin (plus 1.27).

Individually, quarterback Blaine Hawkins (5th-year, Ankeny) leads all NCAA divisions in touchdown passes (57). He tied his own school mark by throwing seven more against Bethel Saturday and is tied for second in Division III history for a season, four shy of Brett Elliott of Linfield (Ore.), who set the mark with 61 over 13 games in 2004. Hawkins, who was recently named a Gagliardi Trophy semifinalist and received the American Rivers Offensive Player of the Year Award for the second time, also leads Division III in passing efficiency (211.3), passing yards (3,755) and points responsible for (372, the all-time NCAA record). He’s second in completion percentage (.733) and total offense (363.4), fourth in yards per pass attempt (10.46) and 15th in completions per game (23.9).

Receiver Tanner Schminke (5th-year, Boone) is the new Division III leader in touchdown catches (17) while Jeff Herbers (junior, Urbandale, Des Moines Christian HS) is tied for 10th with 13. Schminke is second in receiving yards (1,270) and 19th in total touchdowns (17). Running back Jason Hopp (senior, Earlham) is 21st in rushing yards per carry (6.55), cornerback Brayden Egli (senior, Saint Charles, I-35 HS) is 34th in interceptions per game (0.5) and blocked kicks (2), defensive end Hunter Maddy (5th-year, Mystic, Centerville HS) is 24th in fumbles recovered (2) and kicker Logan Sunvold (sophomore, Monroe, Southeast Polk HS) is ninth in field goal percentage (.818) 19th in scoring (106) and 26th in points per game (9.6).

Linebacker Josh Van Gysel (sophomore, Anthem, Ariz., Boulder Creek HS) had two interceptions Saturday and has four for the year, one behind Egli. Van Gysel is the team tackles leader with 67.0, including 2.5 for loss. Egli has 64.0 with 3.0 for loss, four breakups and two blocked kicks. Free safety Brody Klein (sophomore, Rainier, Wash.) has 59.0 stops with two interceptions. Lineman Blade Durbala (5th-year, Blairstown, Benton HS) was named the American Rivers defensive player of the year last week and has 40.0 tackles with 11.0 for loss and 5.5 sacks. Maddy has a team-high 12.0 tackles for loss with 9.5 sacks.

More Blaine, more records, more milestones—Hawkins passed another significant milestone Saturday, going over the 11,000-yard mark in career passing. He’s now thrown for 11,082 yards and compiled 12,814 yards total offense. A little perspective: The previous career passing yards mark at Central was 6,181 by Tim Connell from 2004-07. He and Hawkins are the only two quarterbacks in Dutch history to throw for more than 5,000 career yards. Hawkins’ season mark of 3,755 by itself would rank 10th on Central’s career charts.

Also Saturday Hawkins broke his own 2019 season record for pass completions of 252. He has 263. He already owns school marks for game, season and career passing yards, completions, completion percentage, touchdown passes and total offense. His performances have even led to the creation of some new categories, as he threw for six or more touchdowns in six straight games earlier this year and has thrown for five or more scores in his last eight games. He’s passed for 300 yards or more six times.

Team record rewrite–The Dutch have broken team season marks for passing yards (4,408), pass completions (319), first downs (340), first downs passing (196), total offense (6,702 yards), all-purpose yards (7,701), touchdowns (89), extra points (83) and points (651). They’re on pace to break the scoring margin record (339 points, 1994), average scoring margin record (34.5 points, 1989). Currently the Dutch have a scoring margin of 463 points and an average scoring margin of 42.0 points. The team’s completion percentage (73.0) and pass efficiency rating (205.28) would also be season marks.

Obscure stat of the week—It’s not one that comes up often in conversation, but the NCAA maintains a record for the highest percentage of passes attempted for a touchdown in a season with a minimum of 300 attempts. The Division III mark of 14.0% was set by Brett Elliott of Linfield in 2004 (61-437). It’s being threatened by–wait for it–Hawkins, who is currently throwing for TDs at a 15.8% clip (57 of 359)

First-half fireworks–Central’s starters have played throughout the first half of each game and have displayed remarkable efficiency. The Dutch have scored touchdowns on their opening possession in 10 of 11 games and have reached the end zone on 58 of 81 first-half possessions, while booting field goals on four others. Central has scored six or more first-half touchdowns in seven of the 11 games and have only 11 first-half punts.

Notes—Central is 8-6 in NCAA second-round games. Of course, the nature of second-round games has evolved as the playoff field size has changed. In 1974, there were only four teams selected to the playoff field and Central’s second-round win was a 10-8 victory over Ithaca College (N.Y.) in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for the national title…Central has scored 49 or more points in eight of the season’s 11 games…Hawkins has thrown 40 or more passes in each of the last three games, but only once in the first eight. His season low was in a 69-13 runaway over Kalamazoo College (Mich.) Sept. 11, throwing just 16 times but completing 15 for 227 yards and four scores… …Only one of the remaining 16 teams in the NCAA playoff field was unranked in the final regular-season AFCA Division III poll. Unranked DePauw University (Ind.) travels to the No. 3 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Saturday.

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