North Central's Playoff Run Halted by Defending Champs
The North Central College football team was denied in its bid to win the first quarterfinal playoff game in the program's history, as the defending NCAA Division III national champion, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, took advantage of a series of late turnovers to record a 20-10 victory over the Cardinals at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
The Warhawks (13-0) never led until the fourth period, when they scored three times, each following a North Central turnover, to put an end to the Cardinals' 2010 campaign.
Both offenses fired warning shots at their counterparts at the start of the contest, each scoring on their first possession. The Cardinals took their opening drive 88 yards in seven plays, as Spencer Stanek was 5 for 5 passing for 85 yards, including a 47-yard completion to Steve Hlavac that set the hosts up with a first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Nick Kukuc covered the remaining ground on the next play and North Central held an early 7-0 advantage.
UW-Whitewater took to the air on its first play from scrimmage, as quarterback Lee Brekke heaved a 50-yard pass to Adam Brandes. Brekke found Brandes in the end zone three plays later for a 10-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
The Cardinals did not threaten to score the rest of the first half, but did step up on defense to thwart a Whitewater opportunity. With the Warhawks operating from the North Central 15, Brekke threw to the end zone and was intercepted by Scott Hogan.
A long pass play to Hlavac also set up the Cardinals' next score midway through the third period. On first down from his own 30-yard line, Stanek threw to Hlavac for 50 yards, setting the home team up at the UWW 20. The drive stalled at the 14, and Nick Dace came on to kick a 32-yard field goal with 6:32 on the clock. The field goal was Dace's 13th of the season, tying the North Central single-season record.
North Central forced a punt on the Warhawks' next possession, taking over at its own four-yard line, but Stanek's third-down pass was picked off by UWW's Sam Overton, leaving the visitors just 19 yards from the goal line as the third quarter ended.
Brekke scrambled to his right and found the end zone from five yards out with 13:46 left in the game to give the Warhawks their first lead at 14-10. UWW got another short field when Luke Hibner recovered a fumble at the Cardinals' 39. A series of six straight runs by tailback Levell Coppage moved the Warhawks to the 10-yard line, and kicker Eric Kindler booted a 27-yard field goal with 6:06 to play to boost the lead to 17-10.
Hibner came up big for the Whitewater defense on the ensuing drive, returning an interception 43 yards to the North Central three-yard line. The Cardinals' defense stood tall and kept the Warhawks out of the end zone, but Kindler was able to tack on a 19-yard field goal with 2:03 to play.
The Cardinals did wind up outgaining Whitewater, 306-253. Stanek was 15 of 24 passing for 207 yards and Jordan Tassio was North Central's top ground gainer with 44 yards on 12 carries. Hlavac caught seven passes for 130 yards, becoming the Cardinals' all-time leader in career receptions (179).
Coppage ran 29 times for 107 yards for the Warhawks, as Brekke was 9 of 16 passing for 113 yards and Brandes made five catches for 92 yards. Linebacker Lane Olson was Whitewater's top tackler with 11.
The Cardinals finish the season with an overall record of 12-1, setting a new North Central record for wins in a single season.