WHITEWATER, Wisc. — This dizzying ride of a Central College football season, with each week’s performance seemingly surpassing the last, finally came to a halt in the frosty chill of a December afternoon in southern Wisconsin Saturday with a 51-21 NCAA Division III playoff loss to the No. 3-ranked University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Saturday, but not before etching still more remarkable numbers into the record books.
With NCAA president Mark Emmert looking on, having flown to Whitewater Saturday morning, Central’s marvel of a quarterback, Blaine Hawkins (fifth-year, Ankeny) set the NCAA all-divisions record season touchdowns record, finishing the year with a mind-blowing 63 in 13 games. He entered the day sharing the mark with Brett Elliott of Linfield (Ore.), who threw 61 TD passes in 2004. The Division I mark of 60 was set by Joe Burrow of LSU over 15 games in 2019.
Emmert made the quick trek, along with a huge and vocal contingent of Central fans who jammed the visiting bleachers, to witness a piece of NCAA history established by Hawkins, a model Division III student-athlete. He excels in the classroom with a 3.58 grade point average, as well as on the field, where he has helped author one of the more memorable seasons in the rich history of Dutch football, breaking nearly every school game, season and career passing record along the way.
Yet Saturday Hawkins found time to throw and open receivers scarce. He and the Dutch were also playing without injured wide receiver Erik Knaack (fifth-year, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS), the school’s career touchdown receptions record holder. Still with 27-of-44 passing for 286 yards and two touchdowns, the final line that is likely to stand alone for years to come has him completing 888 of 1,314 passes with 32 interceptions for 11,802 yards and 148 touchdowns for his career.
But it’s Wis.-Whitewater advancing back to another semifinal, taking on the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) next Saturday at a site to be determined.
The Warhawks (13-0) did it with a dominant performance up front. Hawkins was under pressure all day and was sacked six times. They controlled the clock for 38:46 of the game’s 60 minutes and were able to complement the passing game with elusive running back Alex Peete, who rushed for 181 yards and three TDs, upping his Division III-leading total to 28. Quarterback Max Meylor had ample protection, allowing him to connect on 17-of-22 for 230 passes and two TDs. He was sacked once.
“They were really strong up front on both sides of the ball and their depth was very, very good,” coach Jeff McMartin said.
But Central (12-1), which suffered its first loss of 2021 after 14 straight wins including last spring’s 2-0 campaign, showed up ready to compete. The Dutch stopped Wis.-Whitewater on its opening possession and Brody Klein (sophomore, Rainier, Wash.) blocked the punt, turning it into a 25-yard scoop-and-score for 7-0 lead.
Wis.-Whitewater answered with an 81-yard touchdown drive and it was midway through the first quarter before the Dutch offense finally got its chance. Hawkins and the Dutch ripped off 75 yards in seven plays over 1:58 with Hawkins hitting Herbers for the record-breaker.
Meylor again answered, this time on a 2-yard keeper, but Central blocked the extra point to preserve a 14-13 lead with 2:01 left in the first quarter.
Wis.-Whitewater threatened to pull away in the second quarter with a pair of scores as Meylor threw a TD pass and caught one for a 27-14 bulge. But Central stayed within striking distance by putting together a 15-play, 75-yard drive as Hawkins hit Herbers for a 15-yard score with just 44 seconds left at the half and it was 27-21 at the break.
But then Central had what it hasn’t had all year with an unproductive quarter. Central generated just 10 yards of offense in the third period, Wis.-Whitewater tacked on another score and hopes for a semifinal trip began slipping away. The Warhawks pounded away with Peete in the fourth quarter, grinding both yards and clock in making it a lopsided 51-21 final.
Central was outgained 490 yards to 267 and rushed for minus 19 net yards on 22 carries, losing 55 yards on sacks. Schminke closed out his own record year with nine catches for 115 yards, giving him 93 catches for 1536 yards and a Division III-leading 19 TDs. Herbers had seven receptions for 99 yards and two scores.
Cornerback Brayden Egli (senior, Saint Charles, I-35 HS) and linebacker Josh Van Gysel (sophomore, Anthem, Ariz., Boulder Creek HS) put in a hard day’s work on defense, each notching 13 tackles. Van Gysel finished with a team-high 96 stops for the year with Egli next on the list with 72.
And so the whirling offensive numbers, spinning like the price display on a gas pump as each outlandish record was swiftly topped by another as the season unfolded, are finally frozen in place. They’re now the numbers that fans and future players will stare at and attempt to comprehend. They’ll be targeted, but unlikely be surpassed any time soon.
But no digits are required for what McMartin observed from his players as he savored each moment of games and practice, as well as meetings, road trips and hallway conversations.
“I told our team in the locker room that the legacy of this team in the Central football program was special and today takes nothing away from that,” McMartin said. “This program has accomplished great things and had great teams for many years, going back years before these guys were born. But this was a special team and they need to appreciate that. They left the jersey in a better place and I’m proud of the way they represented our college and our football program.”