A Win Ten Years in the Making
--Inside D3 --
Pella, IA. - With an overtime two-point conversion attempt falling short on Saturday, Central Dutch football celebrated something they hadn’t accomplished in over a decade, a win in the NCAA Tournament.
The win adds to a stellar season that has seen the Dutch go 9-1 in the regular season and capture their first conference title since 2009
After finishing in the conference’s top three teams in 14 of the last 15 years, head coach Jeff McMartin said there was something special about this year’s team that helped bring home the championship.
“This team has a lot of heart. They have a great work ethic,” McMartin said. “They’re very coachable in the sense that if there’s something you’re asking them to do, they’re going to give you everything they have to do it.”
Although the title came in 2019, McMartin believes that the process of winning the conference began long before this season.
“A number of the previous teams that haven’t won a championship have really set a great standard for us and kind of paved the way,” McMartin said.
The team had some big wins in the regular season, but none bigger than the win against the two-time defending conference champion, Wartburg.
The teams squared off in early October in a high scoring, back and forth affair that ended up heading to overtime after a goal-line stand by Central. After Wartburg scored a touchdown on their opening drive, the Dutch were able to answer. They then made the decision that helped define their season, going for two and the win.
McMartin said the team had talked during the week about what they would do if the game came down to that situation and while they trusted their kicker, John Alberts, they decided to go for the win because of the momentum Wartburg had built-in staging a multiple possession comeback late in the game.
“I just left like, you know what, we’ve kind of watched this all unravel and we have a chance to win the game with one play,” McMartin said. “We all believed in it and the whole game comes down to one play sometimes. It happened too in that game and we were successful and it turned out to be a great thing for us.”
The win gave Central the tie-breaker over the Knights and meant they would get the automatic qualifier bid into the NCAA Tournament while sharing the American Rivers Conference championship with Wartburg.
As important as the win was to their success, McMartin said a midseason loss to Dubuque may have been the blessing in disguise the team needed to get to where they are today.
“We reevaluated how we practiced and some of the things we weren’t doing that we needed to do to be successful and kind of got back on track,” McMartin said.
For their efforts this season, McMartin was named American Rivers Conference Coach of the Year for the fourth time in his career and 10 players were named to the All-Conference team. This group was led by junior quarterback Blaine Hawkins who led the conference in passing yards and touchdowns this season on his way to being named ARC Offensive Player of the Year.
The team faced a tough task this past weekend with a matchup against top 25 ranked UW-Oshkosh, but were lucky enough to have the game in Pella.
McMartin is an alumnus of Central College and played football for the Dutch during his time as a student. He has helped guide the team to the playoffs several times but felt there was something special about this crowd that showed up on Saturday.
“You’re walking on the field and you’re seeing all these former players and we had a great crowd. It was alumni strong,” McMartin said. “I felt like that was one of our advantages in the game.”
Another high scoring game was sent to overtime and this time Central was on the other end of a potential game-winning two-point conversion.
“It was eerily familiar, it was the exact script of our game with Wartburg, but just flipped,” McMartin said.
In a moment where some teams without postseason experience could crack under the pressure, the Dutch were able to get the stop and bring home the win.
McMartin said the crowd was as happy as the team to see them come out on top.
“There were alumni players tackling our current guys, I was like, that’s the coolest thing. It’s something they’ll never forget,” McMartin said.
The win sends Central to a matchup with #3 Wheaton this Saturday in the Sweet Sixteen.
While the team could be happy with the big win, McMartin said they are excited to get back on the field.
“The greatest thing about this is that we get to play again and I think that says a lot about our program,” McMartin said.