LINCOLN, Neb. — Making just his second appearance in a Central College uniform, the team’s third quarterback of the day, Cooper Downs (sophomore, Ames), put on an attention-grabbing display with an NCAA Division III record-tying five touchdown passes in the third quarter of a 58-0 football runaway at Nebraska Wesleyan University Saturday.
Meanwhile, a Dutch defense that had lived for two weeks with the sour taste of a 38-35 loss to Loras College Sept. 17, needed just three hours for a palate-cleansing effort in posting the program’s first shutout since a 33-0 whitewashing of Buena Vista University Sept. 17, 2016.
Central (3-1 overall, 1-1 American Rivers), ranked No. 24 in the AFCA Division III poll and No. 23 by D3football.com, was up 17-0 in the second quarter behind a pair of TD runs from freshman quarterback Keegan Glover (freshman, Benton, Ill.), who was sharing snaps with starter Brady Ketchum (sophomore, Mount Vernon). Downs entered late in the half and threw a pair of incompletions on the final two plays. His only previous game experience after transferring to Central last winter was in the season opener against St. Olaf College (Minn.) Sept. 3, when he was 2-of-3 for 39 yards with an interception.
Goal in the third quarter, Downs was 12-of-17 for 174 yards and tossed TD passes to five different receivers. That tied the Division III mark for a quarter set by David Sullivan of Williams College (Mass.) in 1993 and matched by Evan Lewandowski of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse in 2019. Central’s previous school mark was held by Gagliardi Trophy winner Blaine Hawkins , who threw four TD assists in a quarter on multiple occasions. The 34 third-quarter points for Central fell just short of the school-record 37 scored against Maranatha Baptist (Wis.) in 2014.
“He did some really good things,” coach Jeff McMartin said. “He came in and was real poised, went through his progressions and delivered the ball, on time, to who he should. I thought our receivers came through and we just got clicking. We were really playing complementary football at that point.”
Downs took a seat late in the period as Central’s fourth quarterback of the day, freshman Hunter Hoffman (Pecatonica, Ill.), entered and took the snaps the rest of the way.
Nebraska Wesleyan (1-4 overall, 0-3 conference) started the game ranked No. 8 in Division III in passing offense with 343.2 yards and was averaging 29.7 points and 406.3 yards overall. But Central outgained the Prairie Wolves 644 yards to 178. Two Nebraska Wesleyan quarterbacks combined to connect on only 18 of 41 passes for 119 yards with one interception. The Prairie Wolves gained just 59 yards rushing as Central recorded a pair of sacks and an interception by back-up free safety Reece Miller (junior, Center Point, Center Point-Urbana HS). Nebraska Wesleyan converted only two of 18 third-down conversion tries and was forced to punt 12 times.
“I thought our defense flew around and played real well,” McMartin said. “They played with great energy but were also really focused. Nebraska Wesleyan does some good things on offense and they’ve got good team speed. But I thought we did a good job of stopping them before they really got going.”
The Dutch reserves played much of the second half but were able to preserve the shutout.
“They held on and did a lot of good things,” McMartin said. “They competed really well, which is important. Nebraska Wesleyan made them earn it. It was nice to see them keep them out of the end zone.”
Central threw to 13 receivers, with running back Jason Hopp (5th-year, Earlham) leading with five catches for 54 yards and a score. Logan Mont (junior, Aurora, Ill., West Aurora HS) had three catches for 22 yards and freshman Carson Cummer (Dubuque, Wahlert Catholic HS) had the day’s longest reception, a 55-yarder for his first collegiate score.
Ketchum completed 6-of-12 passes for 64 yards, Hoffman was 3-of-5 for 24 yards and Glover was 2-of-2 for 4 yards.
“We felt like, even though we graduated some really good people, that we had good players returning that could be weapons for us and we saw that today,” McMartin said.
Central had only rushed for 314 yards in its three previous games but controlled the first half largely on the ground. Glover finished with a Dutch season-high 144 yards on 11 carries with two scores. Hopp rushed for 69 on 11 carries and freshman Josiah Villanueva (Mesa, Ariz., Red Mountain HS) had 53 yards on 12 carries.
“We were able to run the ball pretty effectively against them last year and, in watching film, we felt like there were some matchups that we could use to our advantage,” McMartin said. “We want to continue to strive to be a balanced team that can do both (rush and pass).”
Glover’s quickness was a key factor in the first half.
“Keegan did a really good job,” McMartin said. “He’s an exciting football player and was able to use his speed, but also his vision, to get us some big plays.”
The tackle charts were equally balanced as linebacker Nathan Rahn (senior, Chadwick, Ill., Milledgeville HS) had five stops, including 1.5 for loss. Linebacker Cale Fiderlein (sophomore, West Branch), linebacker Brody Klein (junior, Rainier, Wash.) and cornerback Dillon Hoit (senior, Solon) each had four tackles. Klein also forced a tackle for loss and a fumble recovery while Hoit had a pass breakup.
It’s only one game, but after the disheartening loss to Loras, McMartin thinks his squad is now heading in the right direction.
“Momentum is an important thing,” he said. “There are a lot of things for us to continue to clean up and do better. But I do think we showed some improvement from when we played two weeks ago. We’ll know more after we watch the film, but I think we made some adjustments and did things better. That’s encouraging. The goal is always to get better each week and it doesn’t matter what jersey the other team has, it’s about us getting better. And I think we did that today.”
Central plays its homecoming game next Saturday with a pivotal contest against No. 22/21-ranked Wartburg College. The Knights hammered Loras, 42-3, to improve to 5-0 overall and 3-0 in the league. Game time is 1 pm at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.