Central College (Iowa) scored 24 unanswered points during the second half to send the game into overtime, withstood UW-Oshkosh's potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt and pulled out a 38-37 overtime win during the first round of the NCAA Division III Football Championship on Saturday (Nov. 23) in Pella, Iowa.
Central College (10-1), ranked 24th in the country by D3football.com, overcame a 31-7 halftime deficit to tie the score at 31 following a 34-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Hawkins to Erik Knaack with 15.8 seconds left in regulation. The Dutch then scored first in overtime as Hawkins found Knaack once again for a 6-yard touchdown. Jon Albert's extra point provided Central College at 38-31.
Eighteenth-ranked UW-Oshkosh (8-3) answered with a touchdown of its own in overtime when Kobe Berghammer hit Mitchell Gerend on a 14-yard score on fourth-and-10. However, Berghammer's ensuing pass on the two-point conversion fell incomplete in the end zone.
Central College advances to play in the second round next Saturday (Nov. 30) against third-ranked Wheaton College (Ill.), which won it first round contest by a 51-7 score at home over Martin Luther College (Minn.).
The Dutch's second-half comeback began with a 38-yard field goal from Jon Albert with 9:40 to go in the third quarter. Hawkins rushed for a 2-yard touchdown to cut Central College's deficit to 31-17 late in the third quarter before touchdown passes of 19 and 34 yards from Hawkins to Knaack during the final period knotted the score at 31. The game-tying score capped a seven-play, 74-yard drive during a span of 1:49.
Hawkins completed 24 of 36 passes for 265 yards with four touchdowns. He entered the day ranked second in the nation with 280 points accounted for and eighth with 38 touchdown passes.
Knaack finished with six catches for 103 yards and three scores while Central College's Tanner Schminke led all players with eight receptions for 59 yards and a score.
Central College compiled advantages of 432-372 in scrimmage yards and 27-20 in first downs. The Dutch gained 306 yards after halftime. The teams combined to go 17-for-31 on third down, including 8 of 15 by the Dutch.
Berghammer went 19 of 28 passing for 179 yards with two touchdowns and added a team-leading 18 carries for 114 yards and another score on the ground. Berghammer, who ended the year with 14 touchdown passes and nine rushing scores, surpassed 100 rushing yards for the fourth time this season.
Peter MacCudden had 13 rushes for 50 yards and a touchdown for UW-Oshkosh, which also received five catches for 76 yards and a touchdown from Riley Kallas. The touchdowns were MacCudden's fourth of the season and Kallas' team-high fourth through the air on the year and sixth overall.
Brayden Egli and Tate O'Tool paced three Central College players in double figures with 14 tackles apiece while Connor Lewin chipped in 11 stops.
UW-Oshkosh collected four sacks and the game's lone turnover as Trenton LaCombe scooped up a fumble and rumbled 37 yards for a touchdown as time expired in the first half.
Logan Heise led the Titans with a career-best 10 tackles. Nick Noethe contributed nine tackles for the balanced UW-Oshksh defense, and Tory Jandrin and Kyle Scharenbroch both added eight stops. Brady Heimer accounted for 1.5 sacks for the Titans. Heise, Noethe and Tyler Jensen also registered sacks for UW-Oshkosh.
The teams exchanged touchdowns on their first possessions of the game. UW-Oshkosh took the opening kickoff and marched 90 yards in 15 plays, culminating on MacCudden's 1-yard touchdown run at the 7:40 mark of the first quarter. Central College answered with Hawkins' 7-yard touchdown pass to Schminke with 4:24 left in the opening period.
The Titans then accounted for all 24 points during the second quarter as Berghammer scampered 52 yards to the end zone for a 14-7 lead with 13:00 to play in the second quarter, Berghammer hit Kallas on a 20-yard scoring pass for a 21-7 cushion at the 6:43 mark and Jaydon Haag drilled a 41-yard field goal for a 24-7 advantage with 2:34 left ahead of LaCombe's first collegiate touchdown as time expired in the half.
Central College, which ranks fourth in the division with 21 NCAA postseason trips, improved to 22-19 during the national tournament. The American Rivers Conference co-champion Dutch, who picked up their first Division III Championship win since reaching the 2007 quarterfinals, won the 1974 national title and finished as the runners-up in 1984 and 1988.
UW-Oshkosh, the WIAC co-champion, was making its fifth NCAA tournament appearance – all in the past eight seasons. The Titans, the 2016 Division III runners-up, advanced to the national semifinals in both 2012 and 2017, and the quarterfinals in 2015. UW-Oshkosh now sports a 12-5 record in the NCAA postseason.
Photo courtesy of Dan Vander Beek of Vander Beek Photography