Hitting the road in conference play for the third straight week, the North Central College football team continued to play the role of a rotten guest on Saturday, scoring the first 35 points in a 42-10 rout of Carthage College at Art Keller Field.
The win is the 20th straight in College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin play for the ninth-ranked Cardinals (6-1, 4-0 CCIW) and extends North Central's current record to 19 straight confrence wins by 20 points or more. The Cardinals have now scored at least 40 points in five of their last six contests, including all four CCIW victories.
The game was scoreless through the end of the first quarter, although North Central had begun its first scoring drive late in the opening period. Taking over following a punt at their own six-yard line, the Cardinals got a pair of clutch third-down passes from Spencer Stanek to keep the drive alive before Jordan Tassioconverted on two fourth-down conversion attempts, running for nine yards each time. Tassio's second fourth-down run left the Cardinals just four yards from the end zone, and he covered the remaining distance on the next play to wrap up a 16-play, 94-yard drive and get the visitors on the board.
North Central opened its next scoring drive after safety Shane Dierking intercepted a Carthage pass and set the Cardinals' offense up with possession near midfield.Nick Kukuc opened with a 23-yard run, and Stanek completed two consecutive passes, totaling 24 yards, to move North Central to the one-yard line, and Tassio ran in for his second score to double the lead with 6:19 before halftime.
Another interception by Dierking gave the Cardinals one more scoring opportunity before the break, again handing the offense the ball at the North Central 48. A 25-yard screen pass to Kukuc got the Cardinals into striking distance, and Stanek found Chad O'Kane for a 12-yard completion before firing an 11-yard touchdown completion to Peter Sorenson with just 26 seconds on the clock.
After forcing a punt on the opening possession of the third quarter, the Cardinals moved down the field quickly as Kukuc took an option pitch and raced 55 yards to the Carthage three-yard line. Tassio scored his third TD of the game from a yard out two plays later to boost North Central's lead to 28-0.
The third period closed with the Cardinals' biggest special-teams play of the evening, as Halaiano Fuentes fielded a punt and returned it 64 yards to the Carthage 15. It was Fuentes' second punt return of more than 60 yards in the last two weeks and set up a touchdown on the next play, as Stanek found Stolzenburg in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Carthage defensive back Zac Pallissard broke up the shutout with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown with 13:11 remaining in the game. The Cardinals' final score came with 5:53 on the clock, as Kukuc capped a six-play, 59-yard drive with a one-yard TD run.
Kukuc went over 100 yards rushing for the fifth time this season, gaining a season-high 129 yards on 14 carries. He now has 3,024 rushing yards in his career, making him the third in North Central history to top the 3,000-yard mark. Tassio ran 13 times for 56 yards, and his 13 rushing touchdowns this season leave hime one short of the Cardinals' single-season record.
Stanek completed 19 of 27 passes for 235 yards. Ryne Rezac caught six passes for 33 yards, while Chad O'Kane made four grabs for 70 yards. Bill Mitchell was the Cardinals' top tackler with five stops and Quinn Haas made a team-high three tackles for loss.
Derek Bellamy ran for 106 yards on 18 carries for Carthage (3-4, 1-3 CCIW) while T.J. Trepanier was the Red Men's top receiver with five catches for 48 yards. Backup quarterback Jonny Brewster completed 6 of 13 passes for 67 yards and starter A.J. Simoncelli was 5 of 12 for 30 yards. Mickey Johnson made nine tackles for Carthage and Mike Merucci compiled four tackles for loss and two quarterback sacks.
Now in sole possession of first place in the CCIW standings, the Cardinals return home to host their own Homecoming game next Saturday, taking on 12th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan University at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. The Titans (6-1, 3-1) suffered their first loss of the season, a 38-33 setback at Wheaton, on Saturday.