'Miracle in the Mud' keeps Central alive in playoffs

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A classic battle of unbeaten Division III football heavyweights ended with Central stunning Linfield 20-17 in overtime. A muffed 38-yard field goal attempt that was scooped up by Central center Reid Evans and then advanced by fullback Joe Ritzert for a touchdown gave the Dutch an amazing 20-17 victory at Maxwell Field.

Linfield had taken a 17-14 lead to open the overtime session on Scott Cannon's 34-yard field goal when Central took its turn on offense from the 25. Halted on its first three downs by the Wildcat defense, Dutch kicker Tim O'Neil lined up for a game-tying field goal. O'Neil's kick dribbled into the line and the game appeared over as the crowd of 2,500 began to celebrate. But Evans alertly grabbed the ball after a momentary delay, handed it to Ritzert who carried it 20 yards into the end zone. The officials, who signaled a touchdown, huddled for two minutes before declaring that the play would stand as called.

Central (12-0) advances to the NCAA quarterfinals where the Dutch will face St. John's, a 28-21 winner in overtime over defending Division III champion Pacific Lutheran.

Linfield (9-1) marched five plays on its opening possession for the first points of the game. Marty Williams ran untouched into the end zone from 1 yard out and Scott Cannon's extra point made it 7-0 with 9:21 left in the first quarter. On the ensuing possession, Dutch quarterback Scott Koerselman found a wide open Chris McCullough for a 44-yard touchdown. The extra point tied the game 7-7.

The Wildcats twice drove inside the Dutch 20 in the first half but Musser had passes picked off at the goal line each time. Central drove to the Wildcats 14 with less than two minutes to play in the first half, but Koerselman was sacked for a 10-yard loss and then fumbled on the following play, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Linfield 25. Koerselman put the Dutch in front 14-7 on a 1-yard sneak with 8:18 to go in the third, set up by a 32-yard catch by McCullough at the Wildcats' 1.

Linfield got the ball back and marched 69 yards in four plays to pull even at 14. Musser found Josh Harrison who weaved his way into the end zone from 26 yards. Central moved the ball to the Wildcats 25 but Koerselman was intercepted by Brady Andrews at the 6 with 1:10 to play.

In overtime, the Wildcats moved the ball to the 18 but two Musser passes fell incomplete. Cannon came on to boot the 34-yard field goal, giving the Wildcats a temporary 17-14 lead.

Linfield outgained Central 383-346 in total yards. Koerselman rushed 19 times for 71 yards and completed 7 of 12 passes for 144 yards. McCullough's two catches totaled 76 yards. Musser was 15-for-33 for 224 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice. Sonte' Wong caught a game-high five passes for 76 yards. The Wildcats turned the ball over five times -- all in the first half. Central threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles as muddy field conditions played a large factor.

Central was on defense by Austin Bonnema who recorded 10 tackles. Linfield tackle Shaun Moore was in on 13 tackles while linebacker Hans Evenson recorded 11.

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