Nebraska Wesleyan was battling two opponents on the scoreboard Saturday during its homecoming football game — No. 23 Central and the clock.
Despite a furious fourth-quarter comeback, the Prairie Wolves were unable to defeat either one.
Down by 19 points, NWU scored two straight touchdowns in the final period and had the ball with five minutes remaining to potentially go ahead. The Dutch defense, however, stiffened and they were able to run out the clock for a 35-29 victory in front of 1,067 at Abel Stadium.
“I felt like we just ran out of time,” NWU coach Brian Keller said after his team fell to 1-5 (0-4 American Rivers Conference). It’s the third conference loss in which his team has had a fourth-quarter comeback fall just short.
“We’re looking for a conference where we could play five quarters because we’d be pretty good there,” he added, laughing.
While the Prairie Wolves’ offense came to life in the fourth quarter, it was three straight Central scoring drives to open the second half that propelled the Dutch (6-0, 4-0) to a 35-16 lead early in the fourth quarter after holding a 14-9 margin at halftime.
After a 5-yard TD pass from Blaine Hawkins to Caleb Schlatter on the first play of the fourth quarter gave Central its 19-point cushion, NWU quickly answered.
A 57-yard bomb from Jonathan Curti to Shaka Taylor out of the backfield set up a 12-yard TD throw to Bradley Pelkey to trim the deficit to 35-23. Wesleyan’s defense forced Central’s first punt of the second half on the next series, and the offense responded with an eight-play, 76-yard march that Curti finished with a 2-yard scoring strike to Pelkey to produce the final score with 7:17 left in the game.
Central went three-and-out on its next possession, and NWU started at its own 11 with five minutes showing. Taylor reeled off a 17-yard run on the first play, but he was stopped for no gain on his next carry and Curti threw two straight incomplete passes to force a punting situation.
The Dutch picked up two first downs on their next possession and ran out the final 3:36.
Curti was 14-of-18 in the second half for 183 yards to finish 23-of-39 for 283 yards and three touchdowns. It was reminiscent of the junior quarterback’s 2017 sophomore season, when he finished fourth in NCAA Division III averaging 325 yards per game passing and threw for 3,255 overall and 30 TDs.
“It’s about time; we’ve been looking for this all year. To finally go out and execute offensively felt great,” said Curti, who came into Saturday with less than 1,200 yards passing on the season. “But it came down to one or two plays, and it didn’t go our way. At the end of the day, if the scoreboard isn’t in your favor, it’s not enough.”
Taylor, a senior running back, rushed for 123 yards and a touchdown to go with six pass receptions for 96 yards. His production helped NWU outgain Central by 1 yard in total offense (478-477).
He ripped off a 29-yard TD run up the middle in the second quarter to briefly give NWU a 9-7 lead.