HUTCHINSON, Kan. — The defense came up big Saturday.
Unfortunately, the defense that came up big in Gowans Stadium Saturday afternoon did not belong to Hutchinson.
For most of the season, the Blue Dragons have thrived on a stellar defense that has scored six times against opponents. Monty Montgomery scored three times in back-to-back games from the linebacker position.
This time, however, the visiting Triton defense made an impact early. Jackson Martens got Iowa Central on the board with 3:38 left in the first quarter when he returned a Hutchinson fumble 20 yards on a strip-six. Less than five minutes of playing time later, Martens’ teammate Justin Nutof came up with a similar play.
Hutchinson’s offense was threatening to tie the game. Arian Strong ran a quarterback sneak on fourth down inside the Triton 10 for a chance at goal-to-go. Strong pushed the pile up the middle and took the ball down to the 1. In the scuffle, the ball came loose. Justin Nutof picked the ball up for the Tritons at the 1 yard line and scampered 99 yards for a touchdown.
Iowa Central’s first two scores of the game came defensively. Triton QB Blake Dever closed out the first half with a pair of touchdown passes. With 7:45 left in the second, he hit Carlton Todd from 23 yards out. With just 48 seconds left before the break, he spotted Rashad Witty from 8 yards out.
Up 27-0, Iowa Central’s kicker Luke Noonan had his extra-point attempt blocked. De’Mareyae Givens scooped up the ball and took it back to pay dirt for two points.
At the break, Iowa Central led Hutchinson 27-2. The Tritons amassed 12 first downs in the first half, compared to the Dragons five.
It was a first half of miscues for Hutchinson. The two defensive scores dug a hole the Dragons could not escape. Late in the first quarter, a short Triton kickoff was recovered by Iowa Central. Hutchinson also elected to take the wind in the first half after Iowa Central won the toss. Therefore, the Tritons received the ball to begin each half. A Mason Schucker interception and failed sneak attempt on fourth down prevented the Dragon offense from moving the ball in the second quarter. Hutchinson was 0 for 3 on fourth down attempts.
Hutchinson was without leading rusher Dezmon Jackson. Jonathan White started the game at running back for the Blue Dragons and finished with 76 yards. Montai Ellis got six carries late and managed 49 yards. Jackson’s absence was felt. For the first time in five games, the Dragons did not register a 100-yard rusher.
Dever kept his hot hand in the cold conditions when he found Rashad Witty from 9 yards out. The Tritons built a 31-point advantage before Khalil McClain came in at quarterback and completed a five-play drive with a 1 yard TD run for Hutchinson.
The momentum was short lived as Dever started a connection with WR Manny Logan-Greene. Dever found Logan-Greene twice on scoring plays in the second half. The first came from 19 yards away after the McClain touchdown. The second was a 93-yard touchdown to open the fourth quarter.
Dever finished the day with five touchdowns and 237 yards through the air. He was picked off twice.
Hutchinson used four different quarterbacks on the day. Schucker finished 4 of 12 for 37 yards with an interception. Nolan Arrington did not attempt a pass, but managed 11 yards on the ground. Arian Strong ran for 12 yards from the quarterback position. Khalil McClain completed four passes on eight attempts and had one intercepted. McClain threw for negative-2 yards, but ran for 92 on nine carries. He led Hutchinson in rushing.
McClain scored twice on the ground.
Iowa Central’s 93-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter was not its last. The Tritons scored one last time with 8:57 left when Jatoviay Hill dashed 32 yards for a score.
FINAL: Iowa Central 54 Hutchinson 16
Iowa Central racked up 440 yards of offense and possessed the ball for 35 minutes, 14 seconds. The Tritons rushed for 198 yards against a Dragon defense that was allowing only 69 yards on the ground a game.
Eighty-six percent of Hutchinson’s offense came on the ground. All but 35 yards of Hutchinson’s total offense came in the ground game. The Blue Dragons turned the ball over five times.
Iowa Central (7-4) has now won five games straight. Head coach Jesse Montalto is now 3-0 in his last three appearances in Hutchinson. In his previous two visits, he coached the Ellsworth Panthers.
No. 8 Hutchinson (8-3, 6-1) will now wait for an opponent in the Salt City Bowl on Dec. 1 in Gowans Stadium.
POSTGAME WITH RION RHOADES: