INDIANOLA—There’s efficient and then there’s the nearly flawless third-quarter offensive explosion that propelled the Central College football team to a crucial 51-34 runaway over Simpson College Saturday.
After a first half that ended in frustration at the goal line, the Dutch staged a dizzying assault with four lightning-quick third-quarter touchdown drives, none of which required more than four plays.
Quarterback Blaine Hawkins was at his clinical best, connecting on 19 straight passes—one away from Tim Connell’s 2006 record--and finishing 23-of-27 for a school-record 419 yards and five touchdowns. Hawkins now has 5,871 career passing yards, second on the school charts behind Connell’s 6,181 (2004-07) and he upped his career-record TD passes total to 64. For the season, Hawkins moved into third place in passing yards (2,284) and is now tied for second in TD passes (29). Central racked up 684 yards total offense, 9 yards shy of the school record set against Loras College (Oct. 28, 2017).
Central remains in the American Rivers title chase at 5-1 and improved to 7-1 overall with first-place Wartburg College set to visit Saturday.
Running back Jason Hopp topped the 100-yard mark for the second time with 162 yards on 33 carries. Receiver Erik Knaack had nine catches for a career-high 211 yards, the third-most in school history.
“Blaine couldn’t throw the ball much better than he did today,” coach Jeff McMartin said. “We had big catches for our receivers. They went and got the ball and did a great job. I thought Jason Hopp ran well. We were very balanced and effective.”
It seemed momentum might swing the other way at intermission. Trailing 14-10 after one quarter, Central took a 17-14 lead on a 10-yard Hawkins toss to Knaack, then was threatening for more, getting a first down at the Simpson 8-yard line in the closing moments of the half. The Dutch had second down at the 4 with 13 seconds remaining after a timeout, but Knaack was stopped at the 1 on a reception and after a mix-up, time expired before the next snap.
“We should have scored,” McMartin said. “The thing I was happy with was our guys responded the right way. They just came out and got after it. They executed as opposed to letting that take them down.”
Central needed just four plays to take the opening third-quarter kick 65 yards, scoring on a 40-yard Hawkins sprint. After a defensive three-and-out, Central went 57 yards in three plays with Hawkins hitting Knaack on a 49-yard TD strike. The Dutch punted on their next possession but cornerback Danny Anderson snagged his third interception and on the next play, Hawkins found freshman Cameron Bannister on a 57-yard bomb. The Dutch capped the quarter with a four-play 52-yard drive and a leaping Hunter Robinson grab of a 24-yard Hawkins pass in the end zone. That stretched the advantage to 45-14.
“Give our offensive line credit,” McMartin said. “We ran the ball really well and we also were very effective making passes. When you’re doing things like that, you’re clicking on all cylinders. We threw the ball well, our receivers made great catches, it was awesome. We were able to attack in a lot of different areas and our guys made plays. We just got on a roll and guys played with a lot of confidence.”
Simpson (4-4 overall, 3-3 conference) scrambled to within 45-34 with 5:35 left in the game, but Central iced it by grinding out an eight-play, 48-yard scoring drive that consumed 4:26 with Hopp going in from the 1-yard line.
It’s the season’s fifth 500-yard game for the Dutch and the seventh time they have scored more than 40 points, matching a school record. But it was not the type of game McMartin expected.
“Not when you watched (Simpson) play Coe last week and it was a 10-7 football game,” he said. “We felt like they have a very good defense and we were very fortunate to play the way we did.”
Simpson finished with 536 yards of offense. Senior quarterback Tanner Krueger completed 27 of 53 passes for 408 yards and four TDs with one interception. He was also the team’s leading rusher with 67 yards on eight carries.
Dutch free safety Brayden Egli had 15 tackles and a pass breakup. Linebackers Connor Lewin and Tate O’Tool each had seven stops.
“I thought the defense played really hard,” McMartin said. “We made some key stops and got some big turnovers when we were trying to take control of the football game. They faced a lot of plays. Give (Simpson’s) offense credit, they made plays at key times.”
In addition to Anderson’s pick, O’Tool recovered a fumble in the end zone when Simpson was bidding to take a lead midway through the second quarter.
Punters Anderson and Que Baker-McCaulay each kicked twice. Anderson averaged 37.5 yards and Baker-McCaulay 48.0.
“They did a really nice job,” McMartin said. “They were both effective. The wind was swirling and there were times when it felt right to use Danny and there were times when it felt right to use Que. Que hit two big bombs. He was on his game today. I was really happy with how he punted. I also thought Danny punted well. He had a 49-yarder. Their punts look different but they’re both effective.”
Central’s league title hopes hang on this week’s home-season finale with Wartburg. The Knights are 8-0 overall and 6-0 in the conference after handing Coe College its second league loss, 21-7 at Waverly. Game time Saturday is 1 p.m. at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.