STORM LAKE—The numbers are head-spinning.
The NCAA Division III playoffs loom ahead, but after thrashing Buena Vista University 65-6 Saturday, allow coach Jeff McMartin and the 10-0 Central College football team a few moments to savor one of the most remarkable regular seasons in the program’s title-drenched history.
“I think we really have to appreciate what we’ve done,” coach Jeff McMartin said. “There are very few schools each year that go undefeated and so when you put something like that togeter, you’ve separated yourself from a lot of teams, even conference championship teams. And then to not only go undefeated, but to do it the way that we did it is pretty special.”
It’s the 17th perfect regular season for the Dutch, ranked No. 10 in the AFCA and No. 9 by D3football.com, and the first since 2009 as they claimed a record 32nd conference championship, going 8-0 in American Rivers play and gaining their 22nd NCAA playoff berth. First-round pairings for the 32-team field will be revealed on a selection show on NCAA.com Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
With every win, there were more record numbers. Another 602 yards of total offense Saturday at Buena Vista for a school-record and NCAA-leading 618.5-yard season average. A school-record 59.0 season scoring average. And five more touchdown passes for quarterback Blaine Hawkins (5th-year, Ankeny) giving him a national-best 50 for the season. It’s his seventh consecutive game with five or more touchdown passes, although it ends a string of six games with six or more. He’s thrown only six of those 50 TD passes after halftime, as Central averages 40 first-half points and usually has a comfortable lead.
“You could never imagine having the types of leads we had at halftime or the final scores of each game we played this season,” McMartin said. “I think it says a lot about how good this team really is.”
Hawkins also eclipsed the conference passing yardage record of Coe College’s Tim Vinyard, who passed for 2,775 yards in 2000 over 10 league games. Hawkins threw for 2,825 yards in eight.
“To me, that was one of those records that was just hard to imagine someone breaking,” McMartin said.
He also established a new league TD passes mark with 44.
Meanwhile one of his top targets, Tanner Schminke (5th-year, Boone) tied Hunter Robinson’s 2019 school season touchdown receptions record Saturday, snagging two more to give him 15 on the year.
Kicker Logan Sunvold (sophomore, Monroe, Southeast Polk HS) is now in the league record book as well with 63 extra-point kicks. He has a school-record 72 for the year overall.
Central, which has won 12 straight games and 17 consecutive regular-season games, bolted to a 49-0 halftime lead Saturday and much of the story was defense. Ryan Neu (sophomore, West Des Moines, Valley HS) blocked a punt that was recovered in the end zone by Reece Miller (sophomore, Center Point, Center Point-Urbana HS) for a first-quarter touchdown.
“That was a great play and gave us great momentum,” McMartin said.
Cornerback Brayden Egli (senior, Saint Charles, I-35 HS) snared his fifth interception of the season on the next series to set up a second-quarter score on a 1-yard Hawkins flip to Jeff Herbers (junior, Urbandale, Des Moines Christian HS). That was followed by a Matt Glockel (5th-year, Malvern, East Mills HS) sack and forced fumble that was recovered by linebacker Reid Taylor (senior, Polo, Ill.). Two plays later Hawkins hit tight end Grant Nelson (freshman, Pella) for a 13-yard TD, the first of two scores on the day for Nelson.
Buena Vista (5-5 overall, 4-4 conference) entered the game with the league’s second-leading offense. The Beavers lost two quarterbacks to injury in the first half, but the Dutch defense kept them bottled up from the start.
“We really shut them down in the first half,” McMartin said.
Central outgained BV 602 yards to 332. The Dutch held a 490 yards to 186 advantage passing but Buena Vista held a 146-112 edge in rushing yards. Running back Jason Hopp (senior, Earlham) was limited to 43 yards on 12 carries while Hawkins ran for 42 yards on seven rushes, including a 20-yard scramble for a touchdown.
McMartin said that Buena Vista’s aggressive defense made rushing the ball difficult but opened up opportunities in the passing game.
“It was a never-ending cycle of blitzes,” he said. “You’ve got to be really good at picking things up and making good decisions.”
“They don’t make it easy to run the football. You kind of have to wear them down and pick up blitzes.”
There were a few uncharacteristic blemishes on this win in the second half. The Dutch had first down on the Buena Vista 4-yard line and failed to convert. Then Hawkins threw just his second interception of the season.
“We talked to our players about that,” McMartin said. “In the second half we didn’t get away with some of the things that we’ve been trying to correct, so I hope they’ll be mindful of that. You know, taking care of the football, protecting the quarterback, if we do those types of things it will eliminate some of that.”
Hawkins completed 29 of 43 passes for 447 yards while freshman Brady Ketchum (Mount Vernon) came in and was 4-of-4 for 43 yards and two TDs.
“Brady did a really solid job again and he continues to make good strides,” McMartin said. “We need him to do that.”
Erik Knaack (5th-year, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) had seven receptions for 110 yards while Herbers had seven catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Schminke had four receptions for 57 yards and two scores.
Defensive lineman Blade Durbala (5th-year, Blairstown, Benton HS) had seven tackles, including six solos with a sack. Linebackers Josh Van Gysel (sophomore, Anthem, Ariz., Boulder Creek HS) and Hunter Maddy (5th-year, Mystic, Centerville HS) each had six stops. Maddy had a pair of sacks and blocked an extra point which led to a two-point conversion as Taylor scooped it up and raced to the end zone.
Playoffs were not conducted in 2020 due to the global pandemic but Central appeared in the NCAA playoffs in 2019, advancing to the second round.