Central finishes 2017 with four-game football streak

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

PELLA—Finishing with a flourish, Central College saved its best football for the stretch run, punctuated by a decisive season-ending 38-21 victory over the University of Dubuque to secure a second-place Iowa Conference finish.

It’s Central’s 32nd top-two league finish since 1980, a conference best.

Hard-nosed S-back Kyle Gritsch (senior, Brooklyn, BGM HS) had a career-high nine pass receptions for 115 yards and scored twice as the Dutch (7-3 overall, 6-2 conference) used a balanced offensive attack while limiting Dubuque (6-4 overall, 4-4 conference) to 301 yards and just a pair of offensive touchdowns.

The Dutch closed with a four-game win streak.

“I really think we got a lot out of this team, especially down the stretch,” coach Jeff McMartin said. “I think as the season wore on, our focus and our effort were what they needed to be. The guys continued to work hard and they continued to improve. These guys were hitting the sled this week—they didn’t back off, they always wanted to get better. I think that mentality is what allows a program with a legacy like Central’s to continue to have the success it has.”

Nonetheless, this one wasn’t secured until the fourth quarter. The teams traded a pair of first quarter touchdowns, with Dubuque getting a 96-yard kickoff return from Senior Bowl pick Michael Joseph. It was the first time Central had allowed a score on a kickoff since Albion (Mich.) did it in 2012.

Central struck first with a 31-yard TD toss down the sideline on fourth down from Blaine Hawkins (freshman, Ankeny) to Gritsch. Later, running back Pat Gray (junior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS) scored on a 9-yard burst.

Gritsch followed with his first rushing touchdown of the year, muscling his way in from the 1-yard line for a 21-14 halftime lead.

Kicker Jon Alberts (sophomore, Huntley, Ill.) missed just his second field goal of the year late in the half, but converted on a 24-yarder with 11:51 left in the third period to make 24-14. It was a record 14th of the year for Alberts, topping Jake Viggers’ 2007 season mark.

Dubuque pulled within 24-21 midway through the third period but was blanked the rest of the way. A fourth-down stop at the Dutch 43 was followed by a 10-play Central scoring drive as running back Donny Groezinger (junior, Sulphur Springs, Texas; Eastland, Ill. HS) leaped for a 10-yard TD grab. The defense then sealed it with a pair of fourth-quarter takeaways. Defensive lineman Jared Keenan (senior, Grinnell) forced a fumble that was recovered by strong safety Tate Jensen (senior, De Soto, ADM HS) at the Dutch 30. And linebacker Josh Scheible (Kansas City, Mo., Liberty HS) picked off a pass at the Central 46 with 2:49 left, allowing the Dutch to run out the clock.

“Getting those turnovers was huge,” McMartin said. “That’s what kind of closed this game out for us.”

In between, all-American receiver Sam Markham (senior, Atlantic) put an exclamation mark on his career with a 22-yard touchdown catch. It was his 11th of the season and a record 33rd for his career. He garnered heavy attention from Joseph and the Dubuque secondary but still had six catches for 54 yards on the day. The league’s receiving yardage leader topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second straight year with 1,042 and set the school career standard with 3,987. His 63 receptions matched the third-most ever in a season at Central, behind his 69 catches in 2015 and his 105 in 2016. For his career, Markham had 295 receptions, nearly double the 151 by Chris Johnson (1995-98), the previous career record-holder.

“I told Sam, ‘You ended your career with a touchdown catch, not a lot of people can say that,’” McMartin said. “Of all the great catches he’s made in his career, for his last catch in a Central uniform be a touchdown, that’s pretty special. He’s been special for us the last four years and we’re really going to miss him.”

Meanwhile, Gritsch capped an injury-battered career with a signature performance.

“Kyle continued to just make big play after big play,” McMartin said. “He’s a weapon and I’m glad we were able to use him a lot. I can’t say enough about his toughness. This is a guy with two chronically bad shoulders. He’s really battled through that for four years now. He was really torn about even coming out this year, but he fought through it, he battled and he stayed committed to this team. I told him today he might have had one of his best games. I was really happy to see him do well.”

Central finished with 235 yards passing as Hawkins completed 24 of 35 throws with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Hawkins was also Central’s top rusher with 60 on 11 carries while Groezinger gained 59 on 12 attempts, Gray had 53 on eight carries and Nathan Fitzgerald (junior, Elkader, Central HS) had 47 on 10 carries. The Dutch rushed for 223 yards overall for 458 yards total offense.

Another senior surge came from linebacker Tyler Olson (senior, Mapleton, Minn., Maple River HS), who followed a 20-tackle effort a week ago with a team-high 14 stops today, including eight solos,1.5 sacks and a pass breakup. That allowed him to match linebacker Sam Norgaard (senior, Napervillle, Ill., Neuqua Valley HS) for a team-high 107 tackles on the year. Norgaard had to watch the final two games of his career from the sidelines with injury, as did nose guard Wesley Wheat (senior, Phoenix, Ariz., Phoenix Christian HS).

In Norgaard’s absence, linebacker Carson Remick (senior, Hillsboro, Mount Pleasant HS) stepped up with eight tackles and linebackers Tate O’Tool (sophomore, Fort Dodge, St. Edmond HS) and Chris Neeld (senior, New Boston, Ill., Mercer County HS) had seven, as did Keenan.

Dubuque managed just 136 rushing yards along with 165 through the air.

“I thought we did a good job of stopping the run,” McMartin said. “Dubuque is a good running team. They’ve got good backs and a great line. We needed to make them a little more one-dimensional and I thought we did a good job of that.

“If you look at what Dubuque has been able to do all season offensively, I think that our effort ranks up there as one of the best. I give our defense a lot of credit.”

Punter Tyler Bryant (junior, Donnellson, Central Lee HS) averaged 40.2 yards on four punts, landing three of them inside the Dubuque 20-yard line.

It was the collegiate finale for 31 Central players and McMartin said they were the key to the team’s strong finish.

“When you look at it, it’s really remarkable,” he said. “There are not a lot of programs at any level that go through their season with 31 seniors. Not every one of them was on the field a lot but what they did on the field, in the locker room and on campus in leading these guys has been impressive. I love every one of them and there’s something special about each of them that I’ll always remember. It’s been a great class.”

Yet the Dutch have much to be excited about in looking toward 2018.

“I really like our younger guys,” McMartin said. “They had a really good start to the JV season, then some of them started playing varsity for us. We’ve got some big holes to fill without question, but we’ve got some good hard-working young men who I think are going to step up. They’re going to need to step up.”

One of those players—and a big reason for Central’s late-season improvement—is Hawkins, who started the final six games after one appearance as a reserve and closed as the team’s top rusher and passer. He completed 116 of 186 passes (62.4 percent) for a school freshman-record 1,691 yards and 18 touchdowns with just three interceptions while rushing for 593 yards on 86 carries and nine TDs, averaging 6.9 yards a carry and 84.7 per game.

“I can’t say enough about what he did,” McMartin said.

During the seniors’ four years, the Dutch finished with a combined 29-11 record, including a 15-5 mark the past two seasons.

It was a satisfying finish, said center Josh Brunk (senior, West Des Moines, Valley HS).

“When I walked off the field, I just smiled,” he said.



Posted by on Nov 12 2017. Filed under College Sports. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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