HUTCHINSON, Kan. - Only three opponents have managed to beat Hutchinson on its home football field since the start of the 2008 season.
Iowa Central now has a chance to become the fourth.
Aiming to close out their 2012 campaign on a winning note, the Tritons (6-4 overall) will square off with the 14th-ranked (NJCAA) Blue Dragons (8-3) in the fourth-annual Salt City Bowl this afternoon.
Kickoff is set for 1:07 p.m. at Gowans Stadium.
"This will obviously be the second best team we've played this year (behind No. 1 Iowa Western)," said ICCC head coach Kevin Twait, who has guided the Tritons to 14 bowl trips in the last 16 years. "(The Blue Dragons) are the real deal with a great quarterback and three tremendous receivers. On paper, they're probably better than we are, but our guys are excited and jacked up for this opportunity."
The Tritons, who boast the nation's longest current bowl victory streak at six straight games, rank 10th nationally in rushing yards per contest (227.8). Fort Dodge Senior High graduate Jontel Clayton is also 11th in the country individually in total yards on the ground (954).
Clayton recently surpassed Charlie White for the top spot on Iowa Central's all-time rushing list with 2,524 yards. The former Dodger all-stater, who finished second nationally in yards on the ground last fall, has reached paydirt 26 times during his Triton career.
"We need to move the sticks (today) and make sure we put up points once we're in the red zone," Twait said. "Defensively, (Hutchinson) runs to the ball very well, so it'll be a great challenge for our offense to get into the endzone."
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tritons own the No. 4 rushing defense in the nation, allowing only 61.9 yards per game. Iowa Central, which has lost three of its last four games after a 5-1 start, has been susceptible through the air, however, surrendering 349 or more yards on four occasions.
Freshman signal-caller Luke Barnes, a former Troy University commit, holds five single-season Blue Dragon passing records, including passing yards (3,210), touchdown passes (36), completions (260) and total offense (3,206). Barnes has connected on 63.1 percent of his passes (260 of 412) this year.
Antonio Johnson (66 catches, 799 yards, 11 TD), Jatavius Stewart (58-807-9), Miguel Johns (54-843-8) and Kody Cook (40-381-2) form a dangerous receiving quartet for Hutchinson, which has reeled off four consecutive bowl triumphs of its own.
Terrell Lane of the Blue Dragons also ranks second in the country in rushing yards (1,533) and tied for fourth in touchdowns (15). Lane, who is fifth in program history in yards on the ground, has accounted for at least 100 yards in nine out of the last 10 games, including a school-record 308 yards in a Week 3 victory at Garden City.
As a team, Hutchinson ranks fifth in the NJCAA in both scoring offense (45.6 points per game) and total offense (506.2 yards an outing). The Blue Dragons come into the Salt City Bowl after dropping a 26-16 decision to No. 2 Butler in the 2012 Region VI Championship Game.
Hutchinson has appeared in three straight and four of the last five regional finals under sixth-year head coach Rion Rhoades. A win Saturday would match the best five-year run in team history of 42 victories set between 1946 and 1950.
Over the past three seasons, the Blue Dragons have posted five of their Top 10 all-time scoring games, with an NJCAA modern-day record of 90 points against Highland in 2011. Tommy Mangino, the son of former Kansas head coach Mark Mangino, is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Hutchinson.
Today's meeting marks the first-ever on the gridiron between the Tritons and Blue Dragons. Hutchinson is 4-2 all-time against teams from Iowa.
"We'd sure like to make it No. 7 (for consecutive bowl wins)," said Twait, who is 126-52 in his 17 years at the helm. "We're glad that our last game is on Dec. 1 and not Nov. 3."