By ERIC PRATT
Iowa Central had a leg up on the competition here Saturday.
Or two, to be exact.
Kicker Nathan Criswell and punter Mitch Bonnstetter stole the show on an afternoon in which both offenses sputtered, and the Tritons kept their postseason hopes alive with a 21-20 victory over long-time rival Ellsworth yesterday inside Dodger Stadium.
''Our special teams just dominated this game,'' Iowa Central head coach Kevin Twait said. ''I honestly believe Criswell and Bonnstetter are the best junior college kicker/punter combination in the country. I truly do.
Ellsworth - Ciavy Wiles (6-yard pass from Oscar Ross), 6:37 left first. Dayton Balvanz kick.
Iowa Central - Nathan Criswell (32-yard field goal), 10:22 left second.
Iowa Central - Kendall Jackson (10-yard run), 5:46 left second. Criswell kick.
Ellsworth - Carey Demarkus (17-yard fumble return), 0:58 left second. Balvanz kick.
Iowa Central - Criswell (45-yard field goal), 10:20 left third.
Ellsworth - Lamore Wise (10-yard run), 8:30 left third. Kick blocked.
Iowa Central - Criswell (51-yard field goal), 5:46 left third.
Iowa Central - Safety (Intentional grounding in the end zone), 4:56 left third.
Iowa Central - Criswell (49-yard field goal), 3:31 left third.
RUSHING - Iowa Central: DeShawn Johnson 11-74, Wesley Burnside 5-18, Devontrea Tyler 1-10, Kendall Jackson 23-6, Vybert Greene 2-5, Team 2-(minus-20). Ellsworth: Trey Gilbert 10-38, Oscar Ross 19-14, Lamore Wise 3-4, Sam Rasmussen 2-(minus-13).
PASSING - Iowa Central: Kendall Jackson 6-19-1-80. Ellsworth: Oscar Ross 10-23-2-137, Dayton Balvanz 1-2-0-(minus-11).
RECEIVING - Iowa Central: Brandynn Clark 3-36, Trentan Bledsoe 2-33, Andy Henry 1-11. Ellsworth: Trey Gilbert 6-82, Corry O'Meally 1-19, Ciavy Wiles 3-16, Antonio King 1-9.
''To be able to rely on them both for field position and scoring when we don't get the ball into the end zone - they're just invaluable players. We're very fortunate to be able to lean on our kicking game as much as we did (Saturday) and as much as we have (this season).''
The Tritons (4-5 overall, 2-5 in the Midwest Football Conference) scored what wound up being the contest's final eight points during a two-plus minute span late in the third quarter on two Criswell field goals and a safety. The Iowa Central defense and Bonnstetter did the rest, limiting the Panthers (2-7, 1-6) to 169 yards of total offense and poor field position throughout the second half.
Criswell hit all four of his three-point tries - from 32, 45, 51 and 49 yards out. The redshirt freshman from Grinnell is now 13 of 17 on his field-goal attempts this year.
Four of Bonnstetter's punts went for at least 45 yards, including a 56- and a 51-yarder that landed inside Ellsworth's own red zone in the fourth quarter. The former West Bend-Mallard star was an All-American in 2012 and again leads the nation in yards per punt.
''I've always emphasized the importance of being sound defensively and in the kicking game,'' Twait said. ''We saw first-hand (yesterday) how important both can be.
''I'm just very proud of this group. We're incredibly banged up in certain spots, but we're still fighting. By no means is a 5-5 (regular season) what we strive to achieve here, but we've positioned ourselves now to potentially go to a bowl game, which is nothing to be ashamed of.''
D'Shawn Dexter had an interception and a fumble recovery to anchor the defense, while Anthony Combs also picked off a pass.
''The defense allowed a few long third-down conversions early, but really buckled down and set the tone late when we needed a stop,'' Twait said. ''It was great to send our sophomores out with a win in their last game at Dodger Stadium.''
The Tritons avenged a 14-10 loss to Ellsworth on Sept. 21. The Panthers have dropped five straight decisions since that victory.
If Iowa Central defeats North Dakota SCS (3-6, 2-5) next Saturday in Wahpeton, N.D., the Tritons will assure themselves of a Graphic Edge Bowl assignment on Dec. 8 at the UNI-Dome.