30 Iowa Conference titles
PELLA—Sixteen new starters will help the Central College football team open the season at the Univ. of Wis.-Oshkosh Saturday.
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at J.J. Keller Field in Titan Stadium at Oshkosh, Wis.
On the air, on the Web—Trevor Castle is back to call the play-by-play on KRLS-FM (92.1). The broadcast can also be accessed through Central’s website at www.central.edu/athletics or through www.kniakrls.com.
The coaches—Central’s Jeff McMartin is in his ninth year as head coach with a 68-18 record. His teams have won four Iowa Conference titles and gained four NCAA Division III playoff berths. McMartin, a 1990 Central grad, enters the season ranked eighth among active Division III coaches in career winning percentage (.791). He is 6-2 in season openers as head coach.
Titan coach Pat Cerroni is in his sixth year and has compiled a 26-23 mark. He’s 4-1 on opening day.
Split series—It’s Central’s third straight season opener against Wis.-Oshkosh and the teams’ third meeting overall. Last year the Titans scored two touchdowns in the first five minutes and then held off a Dutch comeback attempt for a 31-28 victory in Oshkosh. In 2010, Central rallied with a 21-point second half for a 34-28 victory in Pella.
Preseason picks—Both teams are receiving votes in this year’s D3football.com preseason poll. The Titans were 7-3 last year and took second in the loaded Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletics Conference (WIAC), their highest league finish since 1976. They’re tabbed for second again this season.
Meanwhile, Central also posted a 7-3 mark and finished tied for second in the Iowa Conference. Winners of a record 30 league titles, the Dutch are picked to finish fourth this year.
Questions remain—Central has just seven starters back from last year’s club and one won’t be in Saturday’s lineup. The Dutch have 27 returning letterwinners, including a pair of first-team all-conference picks, kicker Kevin Sheldon (sophomore, West Des Moines, Valley HS) and linebacker Keith Rush (senior, Griswold). Rush is dealing with an offseason injury.
The position attracting the most attention is quarterback, where the Dutch have to replace three-time all-league selection, three-year starter and team MVP Nate Snead. The field was narrowed when Blaine Forsythe (sophomore, Pella), who transferred from Division II Augustana (S.D.) a year ago, moved to wide receiver.
Jack Flaherty (senior, Burlington), Aaron Eiseler (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) and transfer Brendon Boerm (freshman, Traer, North Tama HS) emerged as the early leaders.
“We’ll keep evaluating the position this week but we feel like we have very good options,” McMartin said. “We’ll try to play to the strengths of each guy. We saw good things from all of them in the scrimmage (Saturday).”
Ben Lechtenberg (senior, Manchester, West Delaware HS) is a returning target at wide receiver. He caught 28 passes for 550 yards last year and found the end zone twice.
Starting running back Ross Doehrmann (senior, Williamsburg) was Central’s second-leading rusher last season behind Snead. He gained 580 yards on 135 carries with five touchdowns.
Up front, the puzzle has been pieced together. Offensively, Travis Hook (junior, Grundy Center) gets the nod at left tackle with Spenser Fuller (senior, Leon, Decatur HS) at left guard, Anthony Wolf (senior, Aurora, Ill., Waubonsie Valley HS) at center, Colton Smith (senior, Kearney, Mo.) at right guard and either Matt Schrafel (junior, Cedar Rapids, Washington HS) or Ryan Collins (sophomore, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) at right tackle.
Defensively, Danny Samson (junior, Baxter, CMB HS) returns to anchor one side of the line with Brody Janssen (sophomore, Quincy, Ill.) handling the nose guard spot and Jack Shipley (junior, Tipton) at the other end position.
Linebacker Seth Carson (senior, Woodridge, Ill., Downers Grove South HS) is the top returning tackler with 61 in 2011.
Sheldon will handle the placekicking chores again after setting the school’s season record for most conversions (47-48) last year. He made 7 of 11 field goals.
The Titans—Central dives into a demanding schedule with an experienced Oshkosh squad that features 10 returning starters and 35 returning letterwinners.
“Wis.-Oshkosh has a lot of good talent back and they’re going to be a great test for us right out of the gate,” McMartin said. “We welcome the challenge to see where we are to start the season.”
Senior quarterback Nate Wara, who has started all 30 games in his career, leads the offense. He was named a second-team preseason all-America honoree by D3football.com. He rushed for a team-high 605 yards last season while completing 142 of 234 passes for 1,838 yards and 18 touchdowns with seven interceptions. Wara ranks second in the school’s all-time charts in passing yards (5,570) and passing touchdowns (50).
“He’s a playmaker,” McMartin said. “He throws the ball well and runs the ball well—he led the team in both categories last year. Wara is an all-conference quarterback and in that league that says a lot.”
Returning defensive end Andrew Thompson led the WIAC with seven sacks and was part of a Titan defense that ranked 13th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.
“They have good size and players that are very active,” McMartin said. “They’ll come at you and put a lot of pressure on you. They do a good job mixing up covers and fronts.”
Keys to success—The Dutch will focus on their game and try to avoid mistakes Saturday.
“We need to eliminate big plays, make some big plays and take care of the ball,” McMartin said. “A failure to take care of the ball will put us in a tough spot.”
Which is what happened in last season’s meeting, McMartin said.
“Last year we were evenly matched with good players on both sides,” he said. “Really the game came down to the fact we had five turnovers and didn’t make big plays.”
Another key will be shutting down the Titan offense.
“We have to play great defense,” McMartin said. “They have a good quarterback and they’re explosive and they’ll try to go up and down the field on you.”
Rehearsals—McMartin was encouraged by the preseason.
“We felt good about the preseason and our scrimmage,” he said. “We focused on getting our players more experience and reps and we’ve gotten better.”
Notes—Since 1960, Central is 36-15-1 in season openers. The Dutch ranked seventh in Division III last year in rushing defense (79.8 yards per game) and were 10th in sacks (3.3 sacks per game). Central has a 5-5 record against WIAC schools. Seven of those 10 games were played in the postseason.