HUTCHINSON, Kan. - The Iowa Central football team traded punches with host Hutchinson Community College for three full quarters in the Salt City Bowl.
That's when the 14th-ranked Blue Dragons began to wear the Tritons down and eventually out.
Head coach Kevin Twait's squad had its nation-best six-game postseason win streak snapped here Saturday, as Hutchinson pulled away late for a deceptive 41-21 victory inside Gowans Stadium.
Despite blocking back-to-back punts for touchdowns and leading 21-14 midway through the third, Iowa Central (6-5 overall) couldn't keep Blue Dragon back-up quarterback Kody Cook in check. Cook, who entered the game when Luke Barnes got hurt in the first quarter, accounted for six touchdowns - including four through the air - in the comeback victory.
''Our young men played incredibly hard,'' ICCC head coach Kevin Twait said. ''In the end, we just weren't able to move the chains enough offensively or stop them when it mattered most. The statistics wound up being pretty one-sided, but we were right there with them until the end (Hutchinson tacked on a pair of touchdowns in the final three-plus minutes) on the scoreboard.''
Cook, listed as a wideout on the roster and the squad's third-leading receiver, finished with over 300 yards passing. He had three TD strikes to Miguel Johns, another to Antonio Johnson, and ran two more into the end zone.
Iowa Central struck first on a 67-yard scoring strike from Teag Klyn to Brandynn Clark. The Tritons were still ahead 7-0 with 2:09 left in the first half, when Cook found Johns from 33 yards out.
After a three-and-out, Hutchinson drove and hit paydirt again on a nine-yard pass from Cook to Johns.
''It was a tough finish to the half, but we challenged our guys and they responded (in the third quarter) by gaining the momentum back with some huge special teams plays,'' Twait said.
A blocked punt fell to sophomore defensive standout Joe Feldpausch in the endzone for a touchdown with 7:51 left in the third period to knot the score at 14-all. Teammate Nash Stokpo then did the same moments later on an errant punt snap. Suddenly it was 21-14 in favor of the Tritons.
''You don't see that very often - two special teams touchdowns off punt coverage breakdowns in basically a minute,'' Twait said.
Cook had consecutive rushing scores late in the third and again early in the fourth as the Blue Dragons regained the upper hand. Trailing 28-21, Iowa Central was stopped at mid-field on fourth down and short at the 11-minute mark.
''Had we picked up that first down, things might have been different,'' Twait said. ''But give them credit for making the stop and then salting away the victory.
''We gave ourselves a chance and won the turnover battle, but your margin for error is slim when you can only manage (169 yards) of total offense.''
The Tritons rushed 41 times for just 38 net yards. Klyn was 9 of 22 for 131 yards.
Former West Bend-Mallard standout Mitch Bonnstetter - the nation's leading punter - averaged 44.1 yards per punt on 10 attempts Saturday.
''He's been such a valuable weapon for us,'' Twait said. ''To be able to play the field position game knowing he can deliver at over 40 yards (per punt) has just been huge.''
Chris McGee led the Iowa Central defense with 13 tackles and an interception. Cory Svenson added 11 tackles, while Chris Stuhrenberg (Manson Northwest Webster) registered nine.
Derrion Phillips picked off a pass as well.
Forty-two sophomores played their final contest in a Triton uniform, including the school's career rushing champion - Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Jontel Clayton.
''The sophomores represented our program and our school very well from the time they set foot on campus,'' said Twait, who is now 126-53 in 17 seasons at the helm. ''They should be proud. They won a bowl game last season and had winning records in back-to-back years. They are a high-character group that will go on and accomplish a great deal in the real world.
''I want to thank them for being class acts.''