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CEDAR RAPIDS — Dylan Stepleton went from helpless to helpful.
Coe’s senior defensive back spent the first half watching from the sideline after being penalized for targeting on his first tackle. When his ejection was reversed after a halftime review, Stepleton returned and played a vital role on his final play.
Stepleton was credited with the block of 22-yard field goal attempt in the final seven seconds, preserving Coe’s 33-30 Homecoming victory over Central Saturday at Clark Field. The Kohawks (6-0, 4-0) won by three points on a late touchdown and defensive stop for the second straight week.
“It’s simply unbelievable,” said first-year Coe head coach Tyler Staker, whose team beat Wartburg, 37-34, last week. “Two games in a row where it has come down to the wire like this.
“I told the guys after the game that I’m 33 and fairly young. My heart can’t take this.”
Stepleton had a chance to make amends after the early hit that forced him from the game. He capitalized on the chance as both teams seemed destined for overtime. Stepleton said he was “hoping and praying” he was going to be able to get a hand on the ball as the Kohawk line made a surge.
“I definitely got lucky there,” Stepleton said. “We got a good push up front and they all sucked in. I was able to come around the outside.”
Stepleton finished with nine tackles. The first came on the second play of Central’s first possession. Stepleton nailed Dutch receiver Kohle Helle on a two-yard gain. The hit drew an immediate flag and after a discussion officials ejected him. He was stunned and then tried to support the team until the break.
“Terrible,” Stepleton said about what it was like having to watch the rest of the half. “I was just sitting there cheering on my teammates and trying to make sure they are in the right spots.”
According to Staker, Iowa Conference coaches voted to review first-half targeting calls. Officials determined the receiver wasn’t defenseless and Stepleton wasn’t headhunting. The news was well-received by the locker room.
“Our locker room erupted,” Staker said. “Dylan is one of our best players. We take him off the field and we’re a much different defense. So when we said Dylan, you’re back in, you could feel the excitement and energy.
“For him to have an opportunity to block that kick to win that football game, that was unbelievable.”
The defensive dramatics were set up by another last-minute go-ahead touchdown by the Kohawks. After the Dutch converted a fumbled punt by Coe into a 19-yard TD pass from Riley Gray to Sam Markham, the Kohawks faced a 30-26 deficit with 6:52 remaining.
Coe answered with a 65-yard, 12-play drive, melting 5:26 off the clock to regain the lead. Quarterback Gavin Glenn, who was a game-day decision to play due to illness, waltzed in for a 1-yard score with 1:26 remaining. He read the Dutch defense collapse on running back Trevor Heitland and then went off left end for the game-winner.
“I think all 11 guys were looking for Trevor to get that ball,” said Glenn, who threw for 232 yards and a 12-yard TD pass to Demetrius Harper that gave Coe a 16-10 halftime lead. “I was able to take advantage of Heitland’s special plays out there. They have to key on him so much that sometimes they forget about us.”
Heitland drew the Dutch’s attention because of another fabulous week. He rushed for a career-high 210 yards and two touchdowns, including an 82-yard jaunt for Coe’s first score and an 11-yard score to give the Kohawks a 23-17 edge with 5:14 left in the third.
Heitland also had 57 yards on five catches, accounting for 27 yards on the game-winning series.
“We’re always confident in our run game,” Heitland said. “The passes opened up the run game early, so that helped out.
“The plan was to try and spread me out a few times and see what we can open up.”
Glenn was 5-for-5 passing on the last drive, converting a key 3rd-and-9 with a 15-yard pass to Mitch Malloy down to Central’s 4.
“Gavin has ice in his veins,” Staker said. “I don’t think you can rattle that guy.”
In addition to the last stand, Coe’s defense made a key contribution. The Kohawks forced and recovered two fumbles, leading to 10 points. The second resulted in a 34-yard field goal from Brandon Abbas and a 26-24 lead with 13:51 left in the game.
“The defense has been playing so well,” Staker said. “They have been lights out and giving us a ton of opportunities with turnovers and short fields. They’ve come up big in pressure situations.”
Central fell to 4-2 overall and 2-2 in the IIAC. Now, Coe heads to face nationally-ranked and undefeated Dubuque, which has strong IIAC title implications.
“We are going to celebrate tonight and probably Sunday,” Glenn said. “Come Monday, we have to get ready for UD.”
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