There's a bit more than the usual uncertainty as the Central College football team journeys to Storm Lake for its Iowa Conference opener at Buena Vista University Saturday.
Game time is 1 p.m. at J. Leslie Rollins Stadium.
Coach Jeff McMartin called the Beavers a mystery under new coach Grant Mollring, a former offensive coordinator at Hastings College (Neb.) and Doane College (Neb.). Buena Vista opened with a 31-27 win over Mayville State (N.D.) Aug. 31, but hasn't played since. It was the Beavers' first season-opening triumph since 2007.
"We've only got one film," McMartin said. "It's a whole new coaching staff. They have just one coach returning from last year. It's almost like playing a first game of the season. But they've got a lot of returning starters and they have a dangerous football team. They appear to be very well-coached."
Meanwhile, Central was forced into a quarterback change late last week when opening-game starter Nate Boland (junior, Iowa City, West HS) was ruled out due to injury. He's likely to be sidelined this week as well, causing the Dutch to turn to wide receiver Kohle Helle (senior, Guttenberg, Clayton Ridge HS) under center. Helle came to Central as a quarterback and was still seeing a few snaps there, but it's nonetheless been a quick transition. He's known as more of a running threat than Boland, who stands three inches taller, requiring some reconfiguring of the Dutch offensive game plan.
Central is 1-1 after holding off Augustana College (Ill.) Saturday at Pella, 33-22.
On the air and online—The Voice of the Dutch, Trevor Castle, will call Saturday's action on KRLS-FM (92.1), along with analyst Cory Houser. 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 also plays host to coach Jeff McMartin on the KRLS Coaches' Corner broadcast live from Fred's dining establishment inside Central's Maytag Student Center at 7 p.m. Those broadcasts are also available on demand through www.kniakrls.com.
Twitter users can follow Saturday's action through the Central football account @CUI_Football.
The series—Last year in Pella, Central was a 33-0 winner over Buena Vista. The Beavers were 3-7 overall and 3-5 in the conference and return 12 starters. The teams first met in 1928 and the Dutch hold a 57-12 series lead.
The Beavers—Buena Vista used big plays to secure its opening-game victory. Freshman running back Tariq Thomas scored on a 56-yard run while freshman Eric Pacheco returned a punt 72 yards for a TD. Pacheco was named the league's special teams performer of the week.
Thomas finished with 87 yards on 24 carries while junior quarterback Cole Miller completed 15 of 27 passes for 318 yards and two scores. Senior H-back TJ Lint had five receptions for 141 yards.
"They did some things really well," McMartin said. "They made some big plays on special teams. Their quarterback is very good. We tried to recruit him and know he is a winner. They've got good speed at wide receiver and their freshman tailback is really fast. They're explosive."
Senior linebacker Brady Illg was the conference defensive player of the week with eight tackles, including two for loss, along with three pass breakups. Senior cornerback Nick Amundson also had eight stops.
"They've changed defensive philosophies," McMartin said. "Offensively, they're a little more wide open but there are some similarities with last year."
Stepping up—Helle responded to the position switch in a big way. He was Saturday's top rusher with 102 yars on 17 carries, but also delighted McMartin with a career-best 17-for-23 passing effort for 247 yards and two touchdowns. He'd never previously rushed for more than 63 or passed for more than 100 and his previous career-high for pass attempts was 12.
"If you look at how Kohle threw the ball, I was very pleased," McMartin said. "He made good choices for the most part. If you would have told me before the game that he'd go 17-for-23, I definitely would have taken it. I'd take playing like that every week. But he'll continue to get better. The more (repetitions he gets), the better he's going to get."
But now receiver questions—Plugging Helle in at quarterback solves one problem, but creates another because he vacated a starting spot at wide receiver. Injuries there have suddenly left the Dutch with some questions on the outside.
Of course, the receiving corps remains anchored by all-American Sam Markham (senior, Atlantic) and that's a pretty reassuring starting point. Hunter Robinson (sophomore, Lisbon) will likely make his first career start Saturday and other new faces are in the mix as well.
"Moving Kohle has a trickle-down effect," McMartin said. "We've got a sense of urgency at wide receiver now. We have to have some guys step up. That's part of having depth. We'll take a look at a lot of options."
Freshmen on the rise—There are freshmen among those likely to start seeing action at receiver and they're getting a hard look elsewhere as well. In fact, McMartin is hesitant to name a back-up to Helle at quarterback because there are multiple rookies showing promise. They shared time in the junior varsity squad's first two games and performed well, he said.
"All of our young quarterbacks did a great job," McMartin said. "There's not much difference between any of them."
Dutch posted a pair of convincing wins in the JV contests, generating some excitement on the coaching staff.
"So far, we're really happy with this recruiting class," McMartin said. "There's good talent at a lot of different positions. Time will tell, obviously, but they've played well."
A start—Saturday's win over Augustana (Ill.) was a momentum-changer after the disheartening opening loss to Whitworth (Wash.).
"We played with a lot of passion," McMartin said. "We battled and competed. But there's room for improvement on both sides of the ball. We need to keep working hard."
Central outgained Augustana 489 yards to 388, limited the Vikings to 117 yards rushing and had two interceptions.
"I liked how we were able to stop the run for the most part," McMartin said. "And I liked getting those turnovers. Getting takeways is huge. We want to continue to build on that."
Balanced offense-- Central had 56 running attempts and 23 passes Saturday, but the yardage was similar with 247 through the air and 242 on the ground.
"We want to build on it," McMartin said. "We want to be balanced but that's not always the number of plays, it's were you effective? I thought we were effective both running and throwing the ball."
Dutch numbers—Running backs Pat Gray (junior, West Des Moines, Waukee HS) and Donny Groezinger (junior, Sulphur Springs, Texas; Eastland, Ill. HS) continue to top the rushing charts, even after Helle's big day. Gray is averaging 69.0 yards a game with one touchdown while Groezinger is running for 60.0 yards with two scores. The Dutch are averaging 201.0 rushing yards and 204.0 passing yards. Opponents are averaging 415.0 passing yards but only 94.0 rushing.
Linebacker Sam Norgaard (senior, Naperville, Ill., Neuqua Valley HS) has a team-best 21 tackles while linebacker Chris Neeld (senior, New Boston, Ill., Mercer County HS) has 17.
Dining in Rippey, a 30-year tradition like no other—Few college football teams will have a postgame dining experience that rivals Central's this Saturday. The route back from Storm Lake includes a stop in Rippey, Iowa (population 292) for a specially catered supper at the Rippey United Methodist Church, continuing a Dutch football tradition that was started by the late Velda De Moss and Jean Borgeson in the mid-1980s. De Moss was the mother of Marc De Moss '86, a former Central defensive back, while Borgeson is the mother of Linda Borgeson Hampton '88, who was a Dutch football team student manager. Ever since, Central's squad has dined at the church every time it has played at Storm Lake.
"It's a special tradition and one of the links we have with the legacy of the program in the 1980s and with Coach (Ron) Schipper," McMartin said. "The players really look forward to it every time we play up there and it's something that makes our program unique and special."
Special special team member—Kicker Jon Alberts (sophomore, Huntley, Ill.) received conference special teams player of the week honors after his school-record four field goals Saturday against Augustana (Ill.). He hit three 30-yarders and another from 33 in only his second game as the starting placekicker. Seven Central players shared the previous mark of three field goals. The most recent was Jake Viggers, who had three against St. John's (Minn.) in 2007.
Notes—Central had two passing touchdowns Saturday but none yet in 2017 for the Dutch wide receivers. Tight end P.J. Norem (senior, Iowa Falls, Iowa Falls-Alden HS) had a 71-yard TD catch on Central's opening drive while running back Groezinger grabbed a 4-yarder…Central, which was picked for fourth in the league preseason coaches' poll, was 6-2 in conference play last year.