The North Central College football team beat the Carthage College Red Men at their own game on Saturday, combining opportunistic offense with dominant defense in a 24-0 victory that put a damper on the Carthage Homecoming festivities.
Facing a run-heavy Carthage running attack which was bent on keeping the ball out of the ninth-ranked Cardinals' hands, North Central ran just 44 plays, 19 fewer than the hosts, and faced more than an 11-minute disadvantage in time of possession. The visitors' defense, however, kept the Red Men from mounting any kind of scoring threat as it posted its first shutout since a 58-0 victory over Millikin University in 2009.
North Central's first scoring drive began on the Carthage 33-yard line, after an errant Red Men punt netted just one yard. Jordan Tassio ran 19 yards to move the Cardinals into the red zone, and Nick Kukuc ran for the score on the next play to break the ice. North Central forced punts on the next three possessions and took over at its own 20 following a touchback with 5:18 left in the first half. Tassio took off on a run up the middle and made it all the way to the goal line on the next play from scrimmage, doubling the guests' lead with an 80-yard touchdown run. Tassio's score matches the third-longest running play in school history.
Late in the third period, the Red Men (3-1, 0-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) attempted a fourth-down conversion at the North Central 32, but Willie Hayes and Joey Michals sacked Carthage quarterback Pete Djurickovic for an eight-yard loss. Backup quarterback Tyler Dicken entered the game for the Cardinals and jumpstarted the following drive with a 33-yard pass to Kyle Fiedorowicz, and North Central wound up getting a 23-yard field goal from Nick Dace with 12:19 to play in the game.
North Central's final score was set up by its special teams. Carthage prepared to punt deep in its own territory, but Alex Tripp broke through the line and blocked the kick. Kane Thompson scooped up the ball and ran five yards for the touchdown, securing the game's final score with 10:02 to play.
Tassio finished the game with a career-high 140 yards on 13 carries, while Kukuc gained 80 yards on nine attempts. The Cardinals outgained Carthage, 287-208, despite the difference in possession time, and averaged 6.5 yards per play, nearly twice that of the Red Men.
Michals was North Central's top tackler with eight total stops, while Hayes, Valente Garza and Shane Dierking each had seven tackles. Hayes finished with two tackles for loss and 1 1/2 quarterback sacks, while Scott Skuteris recorded a sack and intercepted a pass.
Now winners of three straight games and 10 straight CCIW contests, the Cardinals (3-1, 1-0 CCIW) return home to host Augustana College at 7 p.m. on Saturday.