Carrying over its momentum from last week's win, the North Central College football team left no doubt in its Saturday evening encounter with Millikin University, quickly establishing a comfortable lead and cruising to a 55-7 smash of the Big Blue at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
After a strong second half in last Saturday's 31-14 win at Elmhurst College, the fourth-ranked Cardinals followed with an encore performance in the first half against the Big Blue. North Central found the end zone three times in the first period and owned a 41-0 lead at halftime before allowing its younger players to close out the win.
"That was our one goal," said senior defensive end Alex Tripp, who led the Cardinals' defense with seven tackles, a quarterback sack and a forced fumble. "We wanted to come out like we did in the second half against Elmhurst, and to repeat it the entire game was great to see."
North Central quarterback Spencer Stanek broke his own single-game school record for completion percentage, connecting on 15 of 16 passing attempts (93.8 percent). He got the rout started by throwing three first-quarter touchdown passes, the first of which was a 40-yard strike down the middle to A.J. Thomas on the game's first possession.
After a Millikin punt, the Cardinals drove into Big Blue territory before a pair of bad snaps from center and a penalty left the hosts with a third down-and-30 from the Millikin 36. Stanek cleaned up the mess on the next play, sending a 36-yard TD pass into the hands of Chad O'Kane with 9:11 still to play in the opening period.
North Central defensive back Shane Dierking snagged his fifth interception of the season on the next drive, returning the ball 44 yards to set up North Central's next score just four plays later. Stanek found Thomas for a second time, this time from five yards out, and the Cardinals owned a 20-0 advantage at the end of the opening quarter.
Dierking is now tied with Josh McLeod '12 for second place in North Central history with 13 career interceptions. He is two picks shy of tying Norman Robinson '00 for the career record.
The Cardinals' next touchdown was Stanek's fifth rushing TD of the season, as he capped off a 10-play, 61-yard drive with a six-yard scoring run with 14:09 on the clock in the second period. Cornerback Jordan Dean snared his first interception of the season three plays later, and after a 23-yard pass from Stanek to Ryne Rezac, Matt Randolph took a handoff and crossed the goal line for a two-yard touchdown run and a 34-0 lead.
"It felt great to be back on the team competing," said Randolph, who ran eight times for 44 yards and caught three passes for 25 yards after missing the Cardinals' previous three games due to injury. "We came out and got the win, it was awesome."
North Central's final first-half scoring drive started at its own 37-yard line. After throwing twice to Peter Sorenson and once to Randolph, Stanek gained 11 yards on a scramble before handing off three straight times to Oshayne Brown. Brown's third carry came from one yard away and got him across the goal line for his first collegiate touchdown with 3:18 on the clock.
A 38-yard punt return by John Skokna set up the Cardinals' first score of the second half, as the hosts needed to travel just 14 yards to get across the goal line. Backup quarterback Tyler Dicken did the honors, scoring on a one-yard run to extend the lead to 48-0.
Millikin managed its first score later in the third period. After being backed up to their own four-yard line by a Kevin Looff punt, the Big Blue found themselves in the end zone just three plays later. Quarterback Nick Pippin lofted a 41-yard pass to Brady Cufaude, then zipped a 50-yard pass to Mike Blakely on a flea-flicker before running back Nick Dunning ran for a two-yard TD to break up the shutout with 6:00 left in the quarter.
The final TD of the night came on the next drive. Running back Zack Pattat opened the drive with a 29-yard run, and later added runs of 21 and 15 yards before a two-yard scoring run. Pattat gained a team-high 149 yards on just 12 carries and is now the Cardinals' leading rusher for the season with 293 yards.
The Cardinals owned a 550-212 advantage in total yards, gaining 318 yards on the ground. North Central owned a 33:14-26:46 advantage in time of possession and converted 8 of 12 third-down attempts. The Cardinals' defense managed 12 tackles for loss and four quarterback sacks, with Michael Monterrubio and Alex Ibarra each recovering fumbles.
North Central travels to Chicago to face North Park University (1-4, 1-1) next week. The Vikings lost a 52-21 decision at Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday. Kickoff at the Holmgren Athletic Complex is scheduled for 1 p.m.