The North Central College football team was victorious for the
16th straight regular-season home game on Saturday, racing to an
early lead and cruising past the Millikin University Big Blue,
38-7, at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
The Cardinals (6-0, 3-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) dominated on both sides of the ball en route to a 35-0 halftime lead before the backups ran out the clock.
North Central's offense hit a speedbump getting started, as Brad Crackel's first pass was intercepted by Big Blue safety Sonnie Rollins at the Millikin 35-yard line. The visitors attempted to convert on fourth down, needing just one yard, but Willie Hayes sacked quarterback Luke Hockaday to end the drive.
Once they regained possession, the Cardinals methodically covered 35 yards in six plays to get to the end zone, as Jordan Tassio ran two yards for a touchdown to give the hosts a 7-0 lead with 10:19 on the first-quarter clock.
The Big Blue (3-3, 0-3 CCIW) came up short on another fourth-down conversion and turned the ball over on the North Central 42. The Cardinals followed with a 10-play, 58-yard drive that led to another Tassio score, this time from three yards out, doubling North Central's lead to 14-0.
The Cardinals' next drive led to their first score of the second period. After a Millikin punt, North Central got a boost from a 31-yard run by Nick Kukuc before eventually scoring on a four-yard run by Crackel with 11:43 to go in the first half. The Big Blue drove 62 yards in 11 plays on their next drive, but a pair of penalties left the visitors facing a third-and-15 at the North Central 22. Hockaday was sacked by Peter Bulandr and Valente Garza, shaking up the Millikin signal-caller and forcing him from the game, and another fourth-down conversion attempt failed.
North Central took over at its own 18-yard line and needed just two plays to score again, as Crackel beat an oncoming blitz by firing a pass over the middle to Kyle Fiedorowicz. Finding no defenders in front of him, Fiedorowicz sprinted unmolested to the goal line for a 78-yard touchdown reception, matching the third-longest passing play in school history and increasing the lead to 28-0.
Millikin backup quarterback Matt Holmes was unable to pick up a first down on the team's next drive, and the Big Blue punted to give North Central possession on the visitors' 45-yard line with 3:45 to play. Six plays later, Tassio picked through the defense for a 21-yard touchdown run and a 35-0 advantage.
A short Millikin punt on the first possession of the second half led to the Cardinals' final score. Taking over at the Big Blue 39, the Cardianls drove 20 yards in five plays before bringing on kicker Nick Dace for a 36-yard field goal.
Millikin drove for its lone score on its final possession, as running back Grant Shannon capped off an eight-play, 52-yard drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
Crackel completed 14 of 19 passes for 206 yards. Fiedorowicz gained a career-high 103 yards on three receptions, while Joe Antonacci caught four passes for 45 yards. Kukuc led the ground game with 72 yards on 11 carries, Tassio picked up 59 yards on nine attempts, and Denzel Thompson ran 11 times for 53 yards.
Matt Wenger led North Central's defense with seven tackles, while Joey Michals finished with six. #Jim Clendenning collected two of the Cardinals' five quarterback sacks.
Millikin running back Dion Wilson, who was ranked second nationally in rushing heading into the game, was limited to 83 yards on 14 carries. Wilson had gained at least 100 yards in each of the Big Blue's five previous games. Backup quarterback Matt Holmes completed 5 of 13 passes for 58 yards.
The Cardinals host Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday for Homecoming, with kickoff scheduled for 2 p.m.