Tritons win thriller

CEDAR FALLS – For the Iowa Central football team, Sunday’s 2013 Graphic Edge Bowl will likely go down as one of the more memorable games in school history.

In an entertaining finish, the Tritons (6-5 overall) narrowly escaped with a dramatic 23-20 overtime comeback triumph against No. 7 (NJCAA) Rochester Tech at the UNI-Dome.

Kendall Jackson’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Brandynn Clark in the extra session proved to be the difference. Following a key timeout, Jackson hit Clark on third-and-goal with a perfectly executed fade route in the back corner of the endzone, setting off a wild Triton celebration.

“First of all, our defense did a tremendous job of holding (the Yellow Jackets) to a field goal, giving our offense the opportunity to win it,” said ICCC head coach Kevin Twait, who improved to 132-58 through 18 years at the helm. “Kendall then threw just a great pass in that situation. We told him to make sure he threw (the ball) deep enough to give our guy the only chance to catch it. What an athletic move Brandynn made, too, to go up in traffic and pull it down.”

Standout kicker Nathan Criswell redeemed himself earlier for the Tritons, booting a clutch, game-tying 43-yard field goal with 9:59 remaining in the contest. Criswell had previously missed from 34 and 45 yards out in the second quarter.

“Criswell is one heck of a placekicker, and the two that he missed both actually looked like they were good from our vantage point on the sideline,” Twait said. “We had complete faith in sending him back out (on the field). There was no doubt in my mind that he was going to drill it through (the uprights). To make that last big kick really says a lot about him.”

Iowa Central actually built a 14-0 lead in the opening minute of the second period. Zach Minch broke free straight up the middle for a 22-yard scoring dash for the first Triton points, while Clark later took an end around 17 yards to paydirt.

“We were able to take advantage two (the Rochester Tech) turnovers and a (mishandled) punt,” said Twait. “Even though we were up 14-0, it was mostly because of their self-inflicted wounds. It wasn’t like we were driving the ball up and down the field against their defense.”

Charles Arnold’s 3-yard TD run late in the third eventually pushed the Yellow Jackets (10-2) in front. Rochester Tech also had a golden opportunity to win the game in regulation, however, Ruan Albuquerque’s 42-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right as time expired. Albuquerque then clanked a 40-yarder through off the crossbar on the first possession of OT.

“One of the biggest plays of the game was when they tried to squib kick it, and the ball ended up hitting off one of our guys, allowing them to recover it,” Twait said. “I was interested to see how we’d respond. Credit our mental toughness, though. Sometimes bad things can happen over the course of three hour games, but we didn’t panic.”

Minch compiled 92 yards on 20 carries for Iowa Central. Jackson added 58 yards on 14 attempts.

Spearheading the Triton defensive unit were Greg Brown (interception), Ethan Herren (fumble recovery) and Jareid Combs (sack). Brown was also named Defensive Player of the Game for his efforts.

Alex Schliesmann ran 16 times for 80 yards for Rochester Tech, which came in averaging 407.4 yards and 36.4 points an outing. Yellow Jacket quarterback and Offensive Player of the Game Tanner Menke went 12-for-25 through the air for 131 yards, including a score and a pick.

Sunday’s action was delayed for around 10 minutes late in the first half when Rochester Tech linebacker Dominique Young was carted off the field with what appeared to be a serious leg injury.

A group of 27 sophomores wrapped up their Triton careers on the gridiron with a 12-10 overall mark. Iowa Central, which has punched 15 bowl tickets in the past 17 years, also prevailed over Rochester Tech in 2005 and 2010. Before last season, the Tritons owned the nation’s longest active postseason winning streak at six consecutive games.

“I was so proud of how our guys kept battling all year long, and our assistants stayed the course, too,” said Twait. “We also really appreciate all the support from our administration. (ICCC President) Dr. Dan Kinney, (Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Development) Tom Beneke and (Athletic Director) Rick Sandquist deserve a big thank you.”

With the loss, the Yellow Jackets dropped to 5-17 all-time in bowl games. Rochester Tech is a Div. III non-scholarship program.

No. 3 Iowa Western blanked fifth-ranked Butler by a 6-0 count in Game 2 here Sunday, which was a rematch of last year’s NJCAA national championship.