A stifling defensive effort by the Central College football team threatened to knock Wartburg College off the top rung in the Iowa Conference, but a fourth-quarter field goal let the Knights escape 16-14 Saturday.
Central (5-4 overall, 3-3 conference) was clinging to a 14-13 lead much of the afternoon and could have thrown the league race into a five-way tie heading into the final week. But after being turned away on four drives that ended in Central territory in the last three quarters, Wartburg (7-2 overall, 5-1 conference) got the only points of the second half when Michael Bohlke punched through a 28-yard field goal with 9:21 left in the game.
"The defense played great," said coach Jeff McMartin. "They were continually put in tough situations and responded tremendously."
The Central offense showed some spark in the early going. A blocked punt by Nick Henry (junior, Solon) on Wartburg's opening possession — one of three Dutch blocks on the day, giving them 10 for the season — gave Central the ball on the Wartburg 24. After a TD catch was negated by a penalty that left Central facing first and goal from the 23, receiver Brendon Boerm (sophomore, Traer, North Tama HS) entered at quarterback and scrambled for a 23-yard score.
Turnovers prevented the Dutch from ever taking control, however, and a fumble at the Central 24 got Wartburg going. Three plays later a Brandon Domeyer 1-yard run helped the Knights tie it at 7-7.
Central quickly answered with a seven-play, 68-yard drive, finished off with a 30-yard burst up the middle by Josh Osborn (junior, Burlington), and it was 14-7 with 2:08 still remaining in the first quarter. But the Dutch were shut out the rest of the way.
And an interception one series later left Wartburg at the Central 13. Shifty quarterback Logan Schrader eluded a fierce Dutch pass rush as he did all too often, and scrambled for a 9-yard score on third down with 13:05 left in the half. But another blocked kick kept Central in front.
After generating 121 yards of offense in the opening quarter, Central was limited to 89 yards in the final three periods as the game settled into the defensive slugfest that was anticipated.
The Dutch entered the game with the league's best rushing defense and remarkably limited Wartburg's top back, Domeyer, to minus 11 yards on 19 carries. But Schrader kept the Knights in the game with his legs moreso than his arm, scampering his way to 104 yards on 16 carries despite being sacked three times. The rest of the Wartburg backfield finished with minus 13 yards on the ground.
Wartburg outgained the Dutch 282 yards to 210. Schrader completed 15 of 39 passes for 191 yards while the Knights rushed for 91 yards.
Central had 159 yards rushing but only 51 passing yards. Aaron Eiseler (junior, Newberg, Ore., Red Mountain, Ariz. HS) connected on seven of 20 passes with two interceptions while Boerm also threw an incompletion. Osborn gained 76 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
"We gave them some different looks, we made some adjustments at halftime we felt good about, but we were just not able to make the plays we needed at critical times," McMartin said.
Linebacker Zac Miller (sophomore, Kansas City, Mo., Liberty North HS) had a game-high 12 tackles with three tackles for loss. Cornerback Jason Breon (senior, Anamosa) had 11 stops and linebacker Keith Rush (senior, Griswold) had seven tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Defensive lineman Danny Samson (senior, Baxter, CMB HS) had two sacks.
"Wartburg's a good team," McMartin said. "We knew it was going to be a battle. It was two teams who play great defense. You've got to be the one that makes plays at critical times and avoids turnovers."
The Dutch close the 2013 campaign at home next Saturday against Coe College. The Kohawks are 7-2 overall and 4-2 in the league after rolling over Luther College 31-14 Saturday.