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CEDAR RAPIDS - Crazy doesn't even begin to describe the events that transpired during the third home postseason game in Coe history.
The Kohawks forced a school-record nine - yes, nine - turnovers. They took their first lead of the day on a touchdown catch by a senior defensive tackle. Don't forget a personal best by dependable running back Trevor Heitland.
Coe still needed a defensive stand in the final minute for a 21-14 victory over No. 21 Monmouth in the first round of the NCAA Division III football playoffs Saturday at Clark Field. The 16th-ranked Kohawks set a record for wins in a season, improving to 11-0.
Monmouth (10-1) drove to Coe's 25 with 52 seconds left, but three incompletions and a key sack by Ryan Leonard stopped the threat. The celebration began when Coe took a knee with 13 seconds remaining.
'There were a lot of momentum swings in this game,” Coe Coach Tyler Staker said. 'When you play against good football teams, there are going to be ups and downs and you have to weather the storm. Our guys weathered the storm.”
Coe's defense had its hands full with one of the nation's top-ranked offenses, averaging more than 48 points per game. The Fighting Scots had five drives into Kohawk territory that ended in a turnover, including before halftime.
Fumbled handoffs thwarted three of Monmouth's first four drives. The secondary contributed with interceptions on the final two drives of the first half, including Austin Troendle's pick at the Coe 4 in the final minute before the break.
'We want to stop the run, and I believe we did,” Staker said. 'We felt we had opportunities to play man-to-man (coverage). Down the stretch we played a lot of man-to-man and we were getting a five-man rush so we were getting pressure on the quarterback.”
It preserved a 7-7 tie created by Jacolby Maxwell's 69-yard TD catch from Monmouth quarterback Tanner Matlick and Coe's 6-yard score from QB Gavin Glenn to Tyler Gunderson.
The mistakes continued in the second half. Monmouth fumbled away the opening kickoff and threw interceptions its next two possessions. Coaches emphasized producing turnovers all week.
'The defense created turnovers,” Staker said. 'They made plays when they needed to make plays.”
Coe could have put the game away early but didn't convert any of the first seven takeaways into points. They resulted in punts, a turnover on downs and even a missed 41-yard field goal.
'Would I have liked to have capitalized on more of those turnovers? Absolutely, but give credit to Monmouth,” Staker said. 'They've got a really good defense.”
The eighth time was the charm for Coe. Nick Elsbury applied pressure to Monmouth quarterback Tanner Matlick, who was picked off by Andrew Johnson for the second time. Johnson returned the ball to the Fighting Scots' 18.
Coe had two sacks and nine hurries overall.
'First you have to give credit to the (defensive) line, getting great pressure all year long,” Johnson said. 'My first pick was off Drew's (Heitland) helmet. I caught it.
'Their hands are in the quarterback's face and you can't see the ball. A wind like that, you just have to sit back and capitalize when you have an opportunity.”
Coe earned its first lead of the game five plays later. Glenn hit defensive tackle Daniel Vega for a 9-yard touchdown, making it 14-7 with 3:30 left in the third. Glenn set Coe's single-season record for passing TDs with his 26th of the year.
Vega was approached at the start of the season with a chance to work with the offense, blocking for feature backs. He finally got his chance.
'I was a little nervous,” said Vega, who had a catch on the preceding drive and finished with 15 receiving yards. 'It was a big play for us. It was good our whole offense really accepted me and let me join the movement to get some points.”
The Kohawks padded their lead when Heitland broke free for a 46-yard TD run, making it a 14-point lead with 1:26 to go in the third. Heitland had a career-high 251 yards on 50 carries (second most for him). Yards didn't come easy most of the game, but he finally found a crease.
'We have a really good (offensive) line and coaches kept saying the whole game to just stay with the game plan,” said Heitland, who became the fifth Kohawk with 2,000 yards rushing and 1,000 receiving in a career. 'They are going to bust. We've done it quite a few times this year. Just keep running and making the reads and reading the blocks. Hopefully one busts and we got lucky today.”
Staker said he predicted that if the Kohawks could run it 50 times and throw the ball 26 to 28 times they would have a chance to win. Coe had 57 rushes to 26 passes, but Staker didn't expected to spread the carries.
'To rush it that many times, it was in our game plan,” Staker said. 'To have Trevor touch it that many times, not necessarily, but when I was a young coach a coach told me ‘Players. Formations. Plays.' Who are your best players and get them the football in big-time games. Trevor is one of our best players, so we're going to get him the ball in big games.”
Coe won its first home playoff game since 2002 and will face St. Thomas (Minn.) for a road game in the second round. The third-ranked Tommies (11-0) defeated Northwestern (Minn.), 43-0.
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