Another stellar defensive performance and a massive advantage in
the running game led to another decisive victory for the North
Central College football team on Saturday, as the 10th-ranked
Cardinals ravaged the Carthage College Red Men, 43-8, at
In the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin opener for both teams, North Central (4-0, 1-0 CCIW) was never threatened, scoring the first 20 points of the game and never allowing the Red Men's pass-heavy offense to get untracked.
The Cardinals limited a fourth straight opponent to single-digit scoring and were in the Carthage backfield all evening long, tying a school single-game record with eight quarterback sacks and establishing a new record for fewest rushing yards allowed, holding the visitors to a net loss of 36 yards.
North Central's first score came on its second possession of the contest, which began at the 50-yard line following a Carthage punt. A 40-yard pass from Brad Crackel to Jeff Grunwald got the Cardinals to the five-yard line, and Jordan Tassio covered the remaining distance on the next play for a touchdown. The extra-point attempt sailed wide, leaving North Central with a 6-0 advantage with 7:00 left in the first period.
After another Red Men punt, North Central took over on its own 10 and marched 90 yards in 10 plays for another score, as Tassio ran seven yards to the end zone with 34 seconds remaining in the opening quarter. A 66-yard punt return by Joe Antonacci set up a third unanswered Cardinal touchdown early in the second period, as Crackel capped off a four-play, nine-yard drive with a one-yard TD run to give the hosts a 20-0 advantage with 12:17 left in the first half.
Midway through the second quarter, Carthage finally began to move the ball on offense after six straight punts. A 49-yard pass from quarterback Evan Jones to receiver Pete Djurickovic got the Red Men into North Central territory, but the drive came to an end when the Cardinals' Josh McLeod stepped in front of another pass by Jones at the Cardinals' five-yard line and intercepted the ball. Carthage's first score came on the next play, however, as an errant snap from center led to the Cardinals conceding a safety with 3:46 to go in the half.
Carthage went three and out on the ensuing drive and punted for a seventh time, giving the Cardinals one more scoring opportunity. A 15-play, 75-yard drive ran the clock all the way down, and Nick Dace kicked a 22-yard field goal with time running out to send the hosts into halftime ahead, 23-2.
The Red Men (3-1, 0-1 CCIW) opened the second half by ending a North Central drive with an interception by defensive back Wayne Bolden, but wound up turning the ball over on downs near midfield. The Cardinals needed three plays to secure their first score of the second half, as Tassio rambled 61 yards for his third TD of the night and a 30-2 advantage. Late in the third quarter, a Carthage punt was blocked by Nick Kukuc, and Tom McGinnis recovered the ball at the Carthage 48-yard line to start the Cardinals on their next scoring drive, which culminated in a 27-yard field goal by Dace with 14:49 left in the fourth period.
Carthage picked up its lone touchdown of the game on the next play from scrimmage, as Jones found Chris Schulz for a 72-yard touchdown pass. The Red Men's two-point conversion attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the guests with a 33-8 deficit with 14:29 to play. Carthage forced the Cardinals to punt on their next drive and looked to put another score on the board, but Valente Garza broke through the Carthage line to sack Jones on fourth down to end the threat. North Central scored three plays later, as Crackel threw a 31-yard touchdown pass to Steve Hlavac.
Carthage's 10th punt of the night led to the final scoring drive of the contest. After driving to the Red Men 32, Dace lined up for a 49-yard field goal and hammered the ball through the uprights, connecting on the second-longest made field goal in school history.
The Cardinals outgained Carthage, 476-251, in total offense, gaining 272 yards on the ground. Tassio gained 123 yards on 19 carries, while Denzel Thompson finished with 56 yards on 11 attempts. Crackel completed 9 of 23 passes for 188 yards, as Hlavac hauled in seven passes for 125 yards.
Matt Wenger finished with a team-high eight tackles for North Central, while Willie Hayes contributed 2.5 of the team's eight quarterback sacks. In addition to his interception, McLeod broke up five passes.
Jones completed 23 of 43 passes for Carthage, gaining 265 yards, while running back Jake Smith ran seven times for 22 yards and caught eight passes for 54 yards. Bolden finished with 11 tackles for the Red Men.
North Central travels to Augustana College (3-1, 1-0) on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m.