Three more blocked kicks along with three Luther College fumbles gave the Central College football team nearly all the offense it needed in grinding out a 22-12 Iowa Conference victory Saturday.
The Dutch defense held the dangerous Luther option attack to a season-low 208 yards and Central running back Josh Osborn (junior, Burlington) did the rest, topping the 100-yard mark for the second time this year, gaining 106 yards on 26 carries.
A flurry of early miscues put Luther (2-5 overall, 1-3 conference) in a bind from which it never escaped. The Norse fumbled on their first play from scrimmage and defensive end Danny Samson (senior, Baxter, CMB HS) recovered. Two plays later Osborn took it in from 9 yards out. Luther fumbled the ensuing kickoff on its own 2-yard line and after being stymied there, a blocked punt by linebacker Nick Henry (junior, Solon) bounced out of the end zone for a safety and Central was up 9-0 less than 3 minutes into the contest.
"We needed to get off to a fast start," coach Jeff McMartin said.
Central (4-3 overall, 2-2 conference) has blocked seven kicks for the year. Cornerback Eric Larson (junior, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS) knocked down an extra point for his third block of the season. Henry has two.
The blocks and Luther miscues allowed Central to play it close to the vest on an afternoon when fierce northwest winds made the passing game an adventure. The Dutch were limited to 239 yards total offense but that was still 31 yards better than Luther.
"Our defense did a great job and we had a good scheme," McMartin said. "Fortunately for us, we've played against teams that are similar, yet this offense is different. They do a really good job with it. We got a great effort and our guys played really hard. We did a good job getting off blocks and that's very important."
Following the safety, a Kevin Sheldon (junior, West Des Moines, Valley HS) field goal made it 12-0 Central midway through the first quarter.
Yet the game was not without some anxious moments as the Luther ground game found its way in the second quarter. Quarterback JJ Sirios ripped off back-to-back runs of 35 and 20 yards, respectively, then wrapped up a seven-play, 81-yard drive with a 6-yard TD scamper. The point after try sailed wide, leaving it a 12-6 game.
But another Luther fumble was recovered by sophomore linebacker Grant Gustafson (Pella) with 2:25 left in the half at the Dutch 45. Central capitalized, moving to the Luther 11 with 13 seconds left. Sheldon booted a 28-yard field goal for a 15-6 advantage at intermission.
Central's offense struggled throughout the third quarter and Luther took its opening possession 68 yards in a 15-play TD drive that consumed 7:50.
But special teams ensured the lead shrunk no further. Larson's block kept Central up 15-12 and at the end of Luther's next possession, a snap sailed over the head of punter Jon Cochrane. Freshman linebacker Drew Carlson (Ankeny) pounced on it in the end zone to complete the day's scoring.
"We scored multiple times (on special teams)," McMartin said. "If you're going to score on special teams, you've got a great chance to win."
Central put the game away in the final two minutes, as Osborn barreled up the middle for a decisive first down with a nine-yard run on third and eight.
"Josh did a great job," McMartin said. "That last run was one of his best runs of the day. We did a nice job of managing the clock."
The Luther offense stalled following a third-quarter injury to Sirios, who was the team's top rusher with 79 yards. The Norse finished with 188 yards rushing but two Luther quarterbacks combined to complete just three of eight passes for 20 yards.
"They're going to get some stuff, but to keep them where they were was a good effort by our defense," McMartin said.
Central rushed for 138 yards overall. Quarterback Aaron Eiseler (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) completed 15 of 25 passes for 101 yards with no interceptions. Grant McArdle (senior, Red Oak, Stanton HS) and Osborn each had four catches.
Defensive back Jacob Tune (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) had a team-high 11 tackles for the Dutch, including six solos. Linebacker Mike Young (senior, Country Club Hills, Ill., Hillcrest HS) and Larson each made seven stops. Young also had four tackles for loss for 20 yards, including an eight-yard sack. The Dutch had 10 tackles for loss overall.
Central is on the road the next two weeks, traveling to Dubuque to take on Loras College in a 1 p.m. game. The Duhawks (1-6 overall, 0-4 conference) were blanked by Buena Vista 34-0 Saturday at Storm Lake.