Piling up points at a frantic pace for the second consecutive week, the North Central College football team continued to assert its dominance at home on Saturday, blowing out the Olivet College Comets, 86-14, to win for the 20th straight time in regular-season play at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
Utilizing nearly the entire roster in its second consecutive runaway win, the Cardinals posted the third-highest single-game scoring total in school history and the most since a 86-0 shutout of Elmhurst College in 1958.
North Central needed just five plays to take a lead it would not relinquish, taking the day's opening drive 65 yards and scoring on an 11-yard pass from Brad Crackel to Kyle Fiedorowicz. The Cardinals' defense doubled the lead later in the opening period, as Josh Mitchell intercepted a pass at the 50-yard line and sprinted to the end zone. North Central got a special-teams contribution to lead to yet another first-quarter score, as Joe Antonacci's 33-yard punt return left the hosts just 10 yards from the goal line. Antonacci caught a pass from Jordan Tassio on the next play to boost the Cardinals' advantage to 21-0 with 3:50 still left in the opening frame.
Freshman quarterback Tyler Dicken took North Central down the field for its next score, as the Cardinals traveled 77 yards in five plays and scored on Dicken's 10-yard TD pass to Fiedorowicz on the first play of the second quarter. Dicken completed four straight passes on the Cardinals' next drive before handing off to Ryan Kent for a seven-yard scoring run.
After Josh McLeod intercepted an Olivet pass at the Comets' 31, Dicken threw a 27-yard pass to Alex Haan before Nick Kukuc tacked on a four-yard run to get into the end zone. North Central's final score of the opening half came with 2:30 on the clock, when kicker Nick Dace connected on a 44-yard field goal attempt. The hosts went into halftime owning a 45-0 advantage.
Just two plays into the second half, the Cardinals' defense picked up its second TD of the afternoon on Caleb Bednarz's 26-yard interception. Bednarz scored again at the end of Olivet's next drive, returning a punt 79 yards to the end zone to complete the second-longest punt return in school history.
Mike Boettcher jumpstarted the next North Central possession with a 42-yard run, then capped off the drive with a seven-yard TD run with 6:51 left in the third period. After defensive lineman John Focosi recovered a fumble at the Olivet 33, the Cardinals needed three plays to get into the end zone again, scoring on Dan Bergagna's 14-yard run.
Olivet scored for the first time with 6:59 left in the game, recovering a fumble which set the visitors up with a short field at the North Central 33. Nine plays later, quarterback Daniel Bolster dove in from the one-yard line to break up the shutout. A short kickoff and a 24-yard return by the Cardinals' Connor Douglas gave the hosts field postition at the Comets' 38. Mike Fleming ran three times to get North Central in the end zone again, scoring from 11 yards out with 5:25 to play.
Bolster accounted for the majority of Olivet's passing yards on the next drive, heaving a 71-yard TD pass to Javier Smith with 4:39 to play. The Cardinals countered with the final score of the day with 2:05 to play, as Boettcher completed a five-play, 52-yard drive with a two-yard scoring run.
North Central finished the day with 496 yards of total offense, 329 of which came on the ground. Boettcher gained 121 yards on just 11 carries, while Fleming picked up 82 yards on seven attempts. Dicken completed 7 of 8 passes for 99 yards, and Antonacci was the team's top receiver with 37 yards on three catches.
The Cardinals' defense, which yielded just 169 yards and made 11 tackles for loss (including six quarterback sacks), was led by Josh Sartori's five tackles. Valente Garza recorded two sacks on the day, tying him for second on North Central's career list, and Jordan Dean also intercepted a pass.
North Central is idle until Oct. 1, when it opens College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin play at Carthage College. Kickoff at Art Keller Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.