30 Iowa Conference titles
Coach Jeff McMartin
PELLA—Making the type of spirited comeback that personified the Central College football team this year, the Dutch came just a deflected 2-point conversion try short of overcoming a 21-point second-half deficit and saw their NCAA Division III playoff run end with a 42-40 loss to No. 9 Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) Saturday.
Trailing 35-14 late in the third quarter, quarterback Nate Snead (sophomore, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) fired three more touchdown passes to bring the No. 5 Dutch (10-1) roaring back. His 5-yard strike to tight end Jordan Leuschen (junior, Decorah) with 28 seconds left made it 42-40. On the 2-point conversion try Snead’s pass to Leuschen his pass was deflected by a blitzing Mary Hardin-Baylor defense. Snead caught the pass after the deflection but was quickly tackled.
"We ran a bootleg and right when I turned around I saw Jordan Leuschen,” Snead said. “He was wide open. I was getting ready to throw it and out of nowhere some guy was right in myface and tipped it. Looking back on it, maybe I could've ran it in, but it happened so fast. It was a bang-bang play. I saw him open so I tried to throw it."
The Dutch had the opportunity after linebacker Zach Van Arkel (senior, Malcom, Grinnell HS), who had a career-high 19 tackles,forced a fumble that was recovered by defensive back Ryan Schmidt (sophomore, Keswick, Tri-County HS) at the Central 31 with 2:28 left. Central twice converted on fourth down on the ensuing 12-play, 69-yard scoring drive before the 2-point try.
Still, the Dutch weren’t through. Jake Viggers (junior, Pleasant Hill, Southeast Polk HS) tried an onside kick which was fumbled and recovered by Central at its own 43-yard line. But the Dutch were flagged for the kicker being offsides on the play and the second onside kick try was secured by Mary Hardin-Baylor, which was then able to run out the clock.
Snead had another huge afternoon. He threw four touchdown passes while rushing 19 times for 91 yards and one touchdown and completing 16 of 38 passes for 278 yards. The Dutch also got a 28-yard TD strike from quarterback Zack Bandow (junior, Manilla, IKM HS) for 306 yards passing overall.
Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-1) advances to next Saturday meet No. 6 Linfield (Ore.), a 38-17 winner over Cal Lutheran.
The Crusaders, who hadn’t previously allowed more than 20 points in a game and was yielding an average of just 9.9, built their lead Saturday with a powerful running game, rushing for 327 yards while limiting Central’s rushing attack to 103 yards. Dutch running back David Zachary (senior, Des Moines, Dowling Catholic HS) , who averaged 124.2 yards a game in the regular season, was held to 12 yards on nine carries.
"We believe we can run the football,” coach Jeff McMartin said.” We had a great year of running the football. It's a tribute to (Mary Hardin-Baylor) being able to stop that and take that away from us. We had to make adjustments. If you take something away, you have to give something back. The coverages they run are designed to stop the run. Their cornerbacks made a lot of stops on our power plays. But if that happens, then there has to be some openings down the field. We tried to take advantage of that."
"Mary Hardin-Baylor is really tough up front,” Snead said. “They're big and they're fast. It was hard for us to get anything going in the running game.”
Mary Hardin-Baylor quarterbacks Kyle Noack and LiDarral Bailey combined to complete 11 of 16 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. The Crusaders outgained Central 452 yards to 409.
It was an uphill climb for the Dutch most of the way. Mary Hardin-Baylor jumped on top when Pi’Dadro Davis blocked a Central punt and returned it 20 yards for a score and a 7-0 lead with 11:30 still left in the first quarter.
A 16-yard Jarred Lackey (junior, Somerton, Ariz., Cibola HS) pass reception 3 minutes later, set up by a 55-yard Mike Furlong (sophomore, Davenport, Assumption HS) kickoff return, was just the second first-quarter score the Crusaders had allowed all season. But Mary Hardin-Baylor had three more first-half touchdowns, sandwiched around a 28-yard Brett Wilkin (sophomore, Pleasant Hill, Southeast Polk HS) TD pass from Bandow and it was 28-14 at intermission. The Crusaders made it 35-14 with 5:22 left in the third quarter before Central’s dramatic rally.
"We just believed in each other,” Snead said.” I don't think there was ever a thought that we weren't in this game. A couple scores here and there and we're right back in there--a couple big plays. That's all we needed to do. Once that happened everyone got that belief more and more. We just kept building off of it. Our defense stepped up and made plays and we had to step up and make plays. It's unfortunate it ended the way it did."
Lackey, who didn’t have any touchdown catches during the regular season, got his second of the day on a 25-yard pass from Snead with 1:32 left in the third quarter. Then Snead’s 42-yard scoring bomb to Leuschen made it 35-27 with 13:43 remaining.
But Mary Hardin-Baylor responded with a crucial six-play, 71-yard scoring drive to regain control, fueled by a 50-yard run by Quincy Daniels, who finished with 113 yards on 15 carries. LiDarral Bailey had 95 yards on 15 rushes and Marcus Carruth had 61 yards on four attempts.
"They have weapons everywhere,” said Van Arkel. “Their running back and quarterback make them difficult to defend. We overran a lot of plays and they cutback and gained a lot of yards that way. You have to give credit to their offensive line. They made big holes for those guys."
Yet the Dutch defense came up big late in the game.
"This defense has a lot of heart,” Van Arkel said. “We had to rely on that in this situation. There's nothing else to it. We had to step up in those times. You have to give credit to them, they played a great game. We just had some right play calls at the right time."
Another special Central season—a 30th Iowa Conference title, 20th NCAA berth and 17th undefeated regular season—started with a valiant comeback and closed with one. The Dutch rallied from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to knock off nationally ranked Wis.-Stevens Point Sept. 12, 22-21.
"I credit our kids,” McMartin said. “This is a great group of young men who play the game with passion and never quits. That's how we play the game. I've been here for six years and this is a very typical game for us. We got down but found a way to come back. We believe in ourselves. I give our players a lot of credit for not giving up. We always talk about playing the next play and that no matter what happens, good or bad, we're going to play the next play. Don't worry about the prize, but worry about what's in front of you."
The Dutch graduate just 13 seniors, including Van Arkel, who led the defense wit h 71 tackles. Zachary closed his senior season with 1,254 yards, the eighth-highest season total in school history.
“It's hard,” McMartin said. “The hardest thing about this game is that we don't get to be together anymore. These kids love each other. We've had 11 awesome weeks, who wouldn't want that to keep going? I know I do. I can't stand thinking about not being around these guys anymore. They're a great group."
Van Arkel called it a memorable year.
"I think we can look back on this year and view it as a very successful season,” he said. “Ten wins doesn't come easily and doesn't come without being a great team and a great family of guys that play every play to the best of our ability and give their heart every play. When we look back, we can still view ourselves as champions.”