DEC 1, 2018
BY: DANA BECKER, The Messenger Sports Reporter
CEDAR FALLS — Jesse Montalto set goals for his Iowa Central football program when he took over as head coach last year.
One of those involved getting the Tritons back into the postseason, which he has accomplished thanks to a five-game win streak to end the regular season.
No. 16 Iowa Central will welcome 12th-ranked Monroe to The Graphic Edge Bowl here Saturday, with kickoff scheduled for 11 a.m. No. 3 Iowa Western and ninth-ranked Snow play in the second game at 3 p.m.
The appearance back inside the UNI-Dome ends a three-year drought for the Tritons (7-4 overall), who are 13-9 all-time in bowl games. Montalto, though, helped lead Ellsworth to four consecutive bowl appearances, winning all four prior to coming to Iowa Central.
"It can be tough after 3-to-4 weeks off from your last game to the bowl game, so we've been working really hard here this week at getting after it in practice," Montalto said. "We gave the kids 16 days off from the Hutchinson game and they came back refreshed and anxious to play again to showcase themselves for their futures."
Sophomore transfer Blake Dever has found his groove over the past three games, tossing 10 touchdown passes and racking up 801 yards. On the year, Dever has 1,715 yards and 16 touchdowns adding four more rushing scores.
Draven Peeples leads the team with 621 yards on the ground, while Jatoviay Hill has 314 and four rushing scores. Emmanuel Logan-Greene has a team-high 64 receptions for 761 yards and five touchdowns, with Rashad Witty adding 51 catches for 608 yards and six scores.
The Triton defense is anchored by Spencer Cuvelier and his 90 tackles, including 19.5 for loss. He also has 3.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. Savion Harris has 59 tackles, Daquan Cross has 6.5 sacks and two interceptions, and Michael Slater has 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and has scored three touchdowns on the year.
Iowa Central enters the game averaging 380 yards and 33 points, allowing 252 and 19. They have held four teams under nine points this year, including a shutout of Ellsworth.
This will be the sixth ranked team the Tritons have faced this year including No. 2 Garden City, Iowa Western, 13th-ranked Hutchinson, No. 15 Butler and 17th-rated Highland. Garden City fell to top-ranked East Mississippi Thursday night in the national championship game, 10-9.
"I feel like we play in the best JUCO conference out there (with the ICCAC/KJCAA merger)," Montalto said. "We have battles week in and week out that prepare us to play anybody."
Monroe, based out of New York, will be making its first-ever bowl appearance. The Mustangs (7-1) are in just their seventh year as a program, with their lone loss coming to No. 6 Lackawanna in October.
Jalen Brown, a sophomore quarterback, has completed 50 percent of his passes this year for 890 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He also has 446 yards rushing with a team-high eight scores.
Zaire Jones and Jarious Jones are the featured backs, rushing for 525 and 451 yards with nine combined touchdowns. Tyler Hodge is Brown's favorite target, hauling in 26 passes for 310 yards and four scores.
"Monroe is a good, tough football team that plays extremely hard," Montalto said. "They have a lot of really good football players and play as a team."
The Mustangs average 352 yards of total offense and just under 31 points per game, allowing 296 and 14. They have forced 12 turnovers on the season.
Monroe is the sixth team from New York to compete in The Graphic Edge Bowl.
"That's why bowl games are so much fun because you get to challenge yourself against teams from difference conferences with good records and high rankings," Montalto said. "For us as a program, this is huge because it gives us a chance to get to eight wins, possibly move into the Top-10 or Top-12 and hit recruiting hard with a seven-game turnaround from a year ago."