The North Central College football team tested the durability of the Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium scoreboard in its Homecoming game on Saturday, lighting it up with a frantic first-half scoring barrage and pulling away for a 72-20 victory over the Carthage College Red Men.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals (7-0, 4-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) wasted no time putting their stamp on the contest, owning a 55-0 lead by halftime on the way to the sixth-highest single-game point total in program history and the most points scored by either team in 58 previous meetings.
"The good thing about this game was that all phases of the game made plays," said North Central head coach John Thorne. "It was nice to see so many different players get involved."
North Central's initial score was its first special-teams touchdown of the year. After forcing a punt on the Red Men's first drive of the day, Steve Liaromatis broke through the Carthage protection and blocked the kick. He recovered the ball on the seven-yard line and rambled to the end zone to open the scoring.
The next Carthage punt was returned 31 yards by Shane Dierking to the visitors' 32-yard line, and the Cardinals' offense needed just four plays to get on the board, as Ryan Kent ran in for a three-yard TD and a 14-0 lead with 8:45 still to play in the first quarter. North Central took possession in Carthage's half of the field two more times after short punts, converting the opportunities into two TD passes fromSpencer Stanek to Peter Sorenson. The throws covered 10 and and 21 yards, respectively, and gave the hosts a 28-0 lead at the end of one period of play.
The Cardinals' first score of the second period came after just two plays. Stanek completed a 50-yard pass to Demarco Tillman before Kent covered the remaining six yards for his second touchdown of the day. North Central's lengthiest scoring drive of the first half, a 10-play, 53-yard jaunt which last just under three minutes, culminated in a one-yard TD run by Oshayne Brown.
The final two first-half touchdowns each came on two-play drives. Stanek threw a 28-yard scoring pass to Ryne Rezac with 4:59 before halftime, and Kent scored for the third time on a 68-yard run with 1:57 on the clock. The Cardinals' 55 first-half points equaled its highest output of the season for a full game prior to Saturday.
After a scoreless third quarter, Carthage broke up the shutout early in the fourth quarter when backup quarterback Nick Anzelmo completed a 14-yard TD pass to Marcus Hines. Cornerback Marcus Harnett picked off a Cardinal pass on the next drive and ran in for a 34-yard score to get Carthage on the board once again less than a minute later, though North Central countered with a 51-yard TD run byDenzel Thompson just three plays later.
With 6:52 to play, North Central brought kicker Nick Dace on for a 56-yard field goal attempt, and the senior knocked a line drive through the uprights for the longest successful field goal in the Cardinals' history. Dace set the previous record of 55 yards at the University of Wisconsin-Stout last season.
"Nick has struggled this year," Thorne said. "We wanted to get him out there and give him a chance to get some more confidence. There's going to be a day when we're going to need him to make a big one for us to win a game, and hopefully he's able to knock one in like that on that day."
Carthage blocked a Cardinal punt and returned it for a touchdown with 2:46 to play, though Thompson was able to cap off the scoring with an 80-yard TD run on the second play of the ensuing possession.
North Central finished with a 528-151 advantage in total yards, limiting the Red Men to the sixth-lowest single-game output by a Cardinal opponent since 2000. The Cardinals gained 312 yards on the ground, led by the 128 garnered by Thompson on just four carries and the 97 gained by Kent on five attempts. Stanek completed 12 of 17 passes for 218 yards, throwing five times to Sorenson for 57 yards. With 11 career touchdown catches, Sorenson is now tied with Hank Johnston '10 for eighth-most all-time at North Central.
The Cardinals' defense totaled 12 tackles for loss and five quarterback sacks while forcing two turnovers and 11 Carthage punts. Alex Tripp and Nick Boesso led North Central with five tackles each, and Tripp also turned in 2.5 tackles for loss.Trey Hartema intercepted his first pass of the season and Adam Szudarski forced a fumble which was recovered by John Focosi.
Anzelmo completed 9 of 16 passes for 86 yards for the Red Men, which got 34 rushing yards on 11 carries from tailback Derek Bellamy. Free safety Damon Hayden made a team-best nine tackles.
The Cardinals travel to face 17th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan University (7-0, 4-0) next week. The Titans defeated 10th-ranked Wheaton College, 30-19, on Saturday to remain unbeaten. Kickoff at Tucci Stadium is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.