Posting its first defensive shutout in nearly a year, the North Central College football team remained unbeaten on the 2013 season Saturday with a 42-0 victory over the North Park University Vikings at the Holmgren Ahletic Complex.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals (6-0, 3-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) racked up 35 points in the first half and coasted to the win, owning a 542-200 advantage in total yards, forcing three turnovers and stopping four fourth-down conversion attempts. It is North Central's first shutout since a 52-0 win over Illinois Wesleyan University on Oct. 27 of last season.
"Defensively, that was just terrific effort, especially by the young guys," said North Central head coach John Thorne. "They never did give up. North Park kept moving the ball, and they made the big plays to stop them."
North Central's offense struck quickly the entire first half, scoring five touchdowns from at least 30 yards away. Cardinal running back Matt Randolph opened the scoring with a 35-yard TD run just over two minutes into the game, After a short Viking punt left the visitors with just 28 yards to cover, Peter Sorenson got into the act by catching a 24-yard scoring pass from Spencer Stanek with 9:55 still on the clock in the opening period.
The Cardinals' next two drives resulted in a missed field goal and a punt. The Cardinals next got on the board early in the second quarter when Oshayne Browngot the ball on third down and rambled 36 yards to the end zone. After another short North Park punt gave the Cardinals the ball at the Vikings' 44, Stanek ran right on the option and kept the ball all the way to the goal line for his sixth rushing TD of the year.
Two penalties threatened to derail North Central's final drive of the opening half, but Stanek was able to find tight end A.J. Thomas in the end zone for a 30-yard TD strike. Thomas' sixth score of the season came with 1:34 left in the half and sent the Cardinals into the break with a commanding 35-0 advantage.
Stanek guided one final touchdown drive before leaving the game for good. AfterKevin Schroeder derailed North Park's best offensive drive by recovering a fumble on the Cardinals' two-yard line, Stanek shot a pass to Ryne Rezac for a 73-yard completion that got North Central into striking distance. Brown finished the job with a six-yard TD run with 9:47 left in the third quarter.
The Cardinals ran for 328 yards and averaged an even eight yards per offensive play despite losing three fumbles and being flagged for a total of 10 penalties.
"We made more mistakes than we can afford to keep making," Thorne said. "We had a hard time running the ball on the inside, so I'm anxious to see the film on that. If we can get some of our injured linemen back, that's got to help that get going. Dropping the ball on the ground is not something we're looking for, but hopefully those guys learned something from that and they'll do better next week.
North Park set up for a 23-yard field goal attempt on its next possession, but a botched snap led to a 14-yard tackle for loss by cornerback Kevin Nalefski. The Vikings' subsequent drive came to an end after just three plays when Tyler Scottrecovered a fumble. North Park's final two offensive possessions resulted in missed fourth-down conversion attempts. The Vikings were 0 for 4 on fourth down in the game.
"I know the starters from the defense really were excited and felt happy about that, because as a defensive player you always want that shutout and there's nothing the starters can do anymore except stand over there and cheer and encourage the guys," Thorne said. "They had some bad plays, but they had really good plays whenwe needed them the most.
"The thing I'm the most proud of is we asked the guys to play with a lot of class and make sure the guys from North Park really feel good about playing football today. Help guys up, pat guys on the back, say nice things to them. I saw an awful lot of that happening so I'm really, really proud of that."
Stanek completed 12 of 15 passes for 203 yards and two scores while also running for 39 yards on just three carries. Brown was the Cardinals' top rusher with 65 yards on six attempts, while Zack Pattat ran 13 times for 58 yards and Ryan Kent gained 55 yards on five rushes. Chad O'Kane caught a team-high four passes for 47 yards.
Nick Slezak was North Central's top tackler with 10 total stops, while Richard Zirngibl and Cris Chacon each had six.
North Park quarterback T.D. Conway completed 11 of 30 passes for 130 yards, while tailback Marquis Magwood ran 18 times for 66 yards and also caught three passes for 13 yards. Bennett Dettlinger led the Vikings' defense with nine tackles.
The Cardinals host Carthage College on Homecoming Weekend next Saturday at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m.