Iowa Central parlays late-season momentum into bowl victory
CEDAR FALLS — The Iowa Central football team put an emphatic exclamation point on their comeback season, posting a convincing 34-20 victory over Monroe here Sunday at the Graphic Edge Bowl.
From Jackson Martens and his pick-6 to begin the scoring, to Blake Dever and his 65-yard touchdown pass to Carlton Todd, the 16th-ranked Tritons (8-4 overall) had little trouble earning their sixth consecutive victory.
Iowa Central, under first-year head coach Jesse Montalto, completed a seven-game improvement from a year ago, winning for the 15th bowl game in program history inside the UNI-Dome. The Tritons had won just three games total from 2015-17, but finished this year with three wins over ranked teams in No. 12 Monroe, 13th-rated Hutchinson and No. 15 Butler.
“Lifting that trophy meant a lot to me and my teammates,” Dever said. “All the hard work we put in at every single practice. And all the film we watched paid off.”
Dever finished 11-for-15 for 178 yards passing, Justin Blake earned offensive MVP after accounting for 114 yards in the air, 87 yards on the ground and two combined touchdowns, and Draven Peeples ran for 73 yards and a score.
“We both found great success because of our offensive line,” Dever said. “We knew we had important roles coming into the game and we took advantage of what they gave us.”
Blake, who set single-game school records for total offense and touchdowns earlier this year, echoed those thoughts of his fellow quarterback.
“It wasn’t hard to stay in good rhythm when Blake is having a good game and you have a defense as good as we do,” Blake said. “We all feed off of each other’s energy.
“This team jumped over so many obstacles to get to this game and it feels good to put this football program and the school back on the map. When I got here in the spring, I had to learn about the tradition that Iowa Central once had and that was something the coaching staff harped on me, as well as the team.”
The Iowa Central defense, which allowed under 20 points in each of the past six games, never let the Mustangs (7-2) get on track. Monroe, who entered the game averaging 196 yards per game on the ground, was held to minus-8.
Torre Boland, named defensive MVP, had a game-high eight tackles with 3.5 coming for loss. Spencer Cuvelier added six tackles, including 2.5 for loss, and Daquan Cross had five stops. Boland had 1.5 sacks, Michael Slater had a sack, and Cuvelier, Martens and Terrion Williams had half-a-sack each.
As a collective unit, the Tritons recorded 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and four sacks.
“Jackson’s interception for a touchdown was such a confidence boost for our team,” Cuvelier said. “Getting up 7-0 early on Monroe was big time for both sides of the ball. Jackson had made such a positive impact on our team these last three games and I’m lucky to be playing by his side.”
Jalen Brown threw for 288 yards, with much of it coming on an 83-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Bailey late in the game. Bailey finished with four catches for 118 yards for Monroe, which was making its bowl-game debut in its seventh season as a program.
On the first series of the game for the Mustangs, Martens sat back in coverage and picked off Brown, darting 28 yards to the end zone for a score. Peeples finished off a 12-play, 60-yard drive with his first touchdown of the year, giving Iowa Central a quick 14-0 lead.
“It felt amazing to be able to score and help the team to a great victory,” Peeples said. “(Coach Montalto) told us to buy into the program and trust everything, and it really has helped get the program back to winning like it used to be. The feeling in unbelievable and it really helps build for the program next year.
“I’ll be a returning sophomore next year so I know what kind of potential we have.”
The Mustangs answered back, as Jarious Jones scored from three yards out to cap a 13-play, 65-yard drive. Blake came in and hit J.M. Young for a 20-yard TD in the second, as the Tritons would take a 21-6 lead into halftime.
Dever and Todd connected on the first play of the fourth quarter, putting Iowa Central in the driver’s seat at 28-6.
Brown rallied the Monroe troops with a quick four-play, 83-yard series that took just 82 seconds off the block, but Blake and the Tritons showed their big-play abilities with an equally impressive four-play, 66-yard series needing just 97 seconds to make it a three possession game.
Ezra Naylor led the Iowa Central receivers with four catches for 81 yards, while Todd added three for 80. Rashad Witty had 68 yards receiving and 95 return yards, with Young finishing with four catches for 55 yards.
Iowa Central had its sixth 400-yard total offense performance of the season, finishing with 488 and 25 first downs. The Tritons were also 6-for-14 on third-down conversions and averaged almost five yards per carry.
The win improved Iowa Central’s record in bowls games to 15-11-1 all-time, with this being the first victory since 2014. Montalto has now won five consecutive Graphic Edge Bowls, with four coming at Ellsworth.
“All the credit goes to Coach Montalto and his staff for getting Iowa Central back on the map,” Cuvelier said. “We are just some players doing our best to listen to amazing coaches.
“I was so happy to go out there and get it done (Sunday). After starting 2-4, reaching eight wins seemed impossible. We ran the tables and bought into what the coaches told us. That’s was led us to 8-4 with a bowl win.”
First Downs 13 25
Rushes-Yards 27-(mi-8) 41-196
Comp-Att-Int 16-33-1 20-28-1
Pass Yards 288 292
Total Yards 280 488
Punts-Avg. 9-41.8 6-39.5
Penalties-Yards 7-61 8-58
Third Downs 5-16 6-14
Time of Poss. 26:33 30:34
Monroe 6 0 0 14–20
Iowa Central 14 7 0 13–34
Iowa Central — Jackson Martens (28-yard INT return), 13:00 left in first. Luke Noonan kick.
Iowa Central — Draven Peeples (1-yard run), 7:01 left in first. Noonan kick.
Monroe — Jarious Jones (3-yard run), 2:09 left in first. Conversion failed.
Iowa Central — J.M. Young (20-yard pass from Justin Blake), 13:18 left in second. Noonan kick.
Iowa Central — Carlton Todd (65-yard pass from Blake Dever), 14:50 left in fourth. Noonan kick.
Monroe — Tyler Hodge (43-yard pass from Jalen Brown), 13:17 left in fourth. Diogo Alves kick.
Iowa Central — Justin Blake (1-yard run), 11:25 left in fourth. Kick failed.
Monroe — Tyler Bailey (83-yard pass from Brown), 2:53 left in fourth. Alves kick.
Rushing–Iowa Central: Justin Blake 12-87, Draven Peeples 17-73, Jatoviay Hill 5-29, Emmanuel Logan-Greene 1-12, T.J. Tumbleson 1-1, Blake Dever 3-(minus-3), Team 2-(minus-3). Monroe: Jarious Jones 9-20, Tyler Bailey 5-2, Team 1-(minus-4), Jalen Brown 12-(minus-26).
Passing–Iowa Central: Blake Dever 11-15-1-178, Justin Blake 9-13-0-114. Monroe: Jalen Brown 16-33-1-288.
Receiving–Iowa Central: Ezra Naylor 4-81, Carlton Todd 3-80, Rashad Witty 6-68, J.M. Young 4-55, Emmanuel Logan-Greene 2-5, Eldridge Joyce 1-3. Monroe: Tyler Bailey 4-118, Nyjaliek Williams 3-55, Tyler Hodge 3-50, Jevin Frett 1-26, Carelle Hill 1-12, Victor Mintz 1-11, Jarious Jones 2-8, Shawn McFarland 1-8.