Central, Simpson duel for league football lead

Central Dutch Athletics

Central Dutch Athletics

PELLA—A pair of early season upstarts duel for the American Rivers Conference lead when the Central College football team takes on Simpson College Saturday.

Game time is 1 p.m. at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium in Pella.

Neither team was the preseason favorite, but they’re the two remaining teams with unbeaten league records. No. 20-ranked Central is 4-0 in the conference and 6-0 overall after outlasting Nebraska Wesleyan 35-29 on the road last week while Simpson is 4-1 overall and 3-0 in the league, rolling past Coe College at home, 29-7.

On the air and online—The Voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call Saturday’s action on KRLS-FM (92.1), with NFCA Hall of Fame softball coach George Wares providing the color. The KRLS pregame show will air at 12:35 p.m. The broadcast can also be accessed through www.kniakrls.com or directly at rdo.to/krls. It’s also accessible via mobile device with the KRLS app available through iTunes and other outlets.

On Mondays, Castle plays host to McMartin on the KRLS Coaches’ Corner at 7 p.m. Those broadcasts are also available on demand through www.kniakrls.com.

Video webcasts with Castle’s play-by-play and live stats for all Dutch football home games can also be accessed via the Central athletics website at www.central.edu/athletics or directly at http://portal.stretchinternet.com/central/.

Twitter users can follow Saturday’s action through @CentralDutch.

The series—Central defeated Simpson 35-17 at Indianola last year and has won the teams’ last four meetings. The Dutch hold a 63-29-3 advantage in the all-time series, which began in 1905.

Simpson— Simpson established itself as a contender by stunning defending champion Wartburg College 37-36 in overtime at Waverly Sept. 29. But Dutch coach Jeff McMartin needed no convincing.

“If you just watch the film, as soon as you turn it on you can see why they’re undefeated (in the conference),” he said. “They’re playing great. They’re a very good football team.”

It’s a veteran Simpson squad. Senior running back Cam Bunting is second in the league in rushing with 109.4 yards per game and eight touchdowns.

“He’s a tremendous running back,” McMartin said. “He’s very versatile. He reminds me a lot of some of the other really good backs this league has had. He’s a patient runner. They’ve got a real big offensive line and he gets behind those guys, finds a seam and explodes through it.”

Junior quarterback Tanner Krueger has completed 105 of 206 passes (51.0 percent) for 279.0 yards per game with 10 TDs. He’s the league leader in total offense with a 283.4-yard average.

“He’s doing a great job,” McMartin said. “He’s got a couple of really tall wide receivers and does a good job of getting the ball to them. He also throws to his running backs a lot and they’ve got some good receivers in the slot. And their offensive line starts four seniors. They’ve got a lot of experience and a lot of strength. They do a great job up front.”

Simpson is outscoring opponents 28.6 to 21.0 and outgaining them 397.6 yards to 326.8.

Senior linebacker Michael Connor is fourth in the league in tackles with 7.3 per game and has 3.5 sacks.

“They try to create confusion,” McMartin said. “They give you a lot of different looks and they like to bring a lot of pressure.

“We’ve got a huge task. We have to do everything we can to match their intensity.”

Inside track—While Saturday’s winner will be in a strong position in the league title chase, McMartin said that every game is big and Central’s approach cannot change.

“If we’ve done a good job as coaches and players, then this game is just as important as every game we’ve played and every game ahead of us,” he said. “We have to go out and compete. We have to do that on every down. There’s were our focus needs to be.”

Lessons learned—After bolting to a 35-16 lead early in the fourth quarter at Nebraska Wesleyan, the Dutch had to hang on for the road win Saturday. Central threw two interceptions and didn’t force any Prairie Wolves turnovers.

“We fell behind in the turnover battle,” McMartin said. “It’s hard to have success when you don’t win that. But I thought we battled and did our best to overcome it. There are things on both sides of the ball that we have to get better at. We’ve got to keep working.”

Moving up—Despite the close call at Nebraska Wesleyan, Central jumped three spots to No. 20 in the AFCA Division III coaches’ poll, after debuting at No. 23 last week. In the D3football.com top 25, the Dutch remain outside the rankings but among those receiving votes.

Welcome back—Central’s defense remains injury-riddled but the Dutch regained the services of safety Danny Anderson (junior, Boone), a three-year starter. He’s returned on a limited basis.

“It’s good to have Danny back on the field,” McMartin said. “We need to keep monitoring his progress.”

NCAA leader—Central has taken over the NCAA Division III team lead in pass completion percentage at 73.5 while quarterback Blaine Hawkins (sophomore, Ankeny) is fourth individually at 73.4 percent. Hawkins is seventh in passing efficiency (182.3), 16th in passing yards per attempt (9.41) and 17th in passing touchdowns (15). Strong safety Jordy Borman (junior, Eagan, Minn.) is now tied for second in Division III in interceptions with six. Central is among six teams nationally at 100 percent in Red Zone offensive efficiency, scoring on all 24 trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, including 23 touchdowns. Central is sixth in team passing efficiency (183.3), seventh in average kickoff returns (27.7 yards), 11th in first downs (133) and 19th in interceptions per game (1.6).

Dutch numbers—Hawkins has completed 102 of 139 passes for 1,308 yards (218.0 per game) and 15 touchdowns in six games. He’s just completed a full year as a starter. Nathan Fitzgerald (senior, Elkader, Central HS) is tops on the team in rushing yardage with 58.8 per game, gaining 353 on 72 carries with seven TDs. Erik Knaack (sophomore, Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) has 26 receptions for 489 yards (81.5 per game) and six scores. Tanner Schminke (sophomore, Boone) is averaging 36.4 yards on seven kick returns and Hunter Robinson (junior, Lisbon) has returned 11 punts for 11.6 yards per try. Punter Cam Kiner (senior, Craig, Neb., Oakland-Craig HS) is averaging 42.6 yards on 12 punts with Tyler Bryant (senior, Donnellson, Central Lee HS) averaging 40.8 yards on 12 kicks with five inside the 20-yard line. Linebacker Jake Poster (senior, Davenport, Assumption HS) tops the tackles chart with 41, including 18 solos. Linebacker Connor Lewin (junior, Stillman Valley, Ill.) has 40 with 7.5 tackles for loss.

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