/seasons/2013/contrib/201312075grrru

Semifinals on Horizon for North Central

More news about: North Central (Ill.)

The North Central College football team walked off the field at Bethel University feeling a numbness comprised of equal parts frostbite and euphoria Saturday, fighting its way past sub-zero temperatures and a sturdy opponent to post a 41-17 victory over the Royals in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III Football Championship at Royal Stadium.

The win advances the Cardinals (13-0) to the national semifinals for the first time, where they will face the top-ranked University of Mount Union Purple Raiders for the opportunity to advance to the national championship game.

"I was very proud of the way our guys played today," said North Central head coachJohn Thorne. "Bethel is a wonderful teaem and they're very well-coached so we knew it would be a hard-fought game.

"The weather and the field and all that kind of stuff made it difficult, but it's also going to turn into a day that both teams are going to remember forever. It was a very interesting day, a lot of fun, and we're very excited to have the chance to move on."

On a day when the temperature stayed in the negative digits and a natural-grass field worn down by a long season was particularly unforgiving, North Central entered the game prepared to tackle the elements as well as its opponent.

"The coaches prepared us to stay warm," said senior defensive back Shane Dierking, who became the Cardinals' all-time leader in interceptions (16) while also recovering a fumble and recording a team-high 10 tackles to enter North Central's career top 10. "Once the game started, it wasn't that big of a factor. Cutting and breaking was a little difficult, but there are going to be games like that in the playoffs so it was good to see us overcome those things."

The Cardinals were also boosted for the second straight game by the rushing performance of junior Ryan Kent. Carrying the ball a career-high 28 times, Kent gained 109 yards and tied a North Central single-game record with four rushing touchdowns for the second straight week.

"It's all the offensive line and the playcalling," Kent said. "There are huge holes to run through, and when you're running behind a line like that, I can't take too much credit for it.

"I've played in cold games before, but the field was pretty hard. It was like playing on cement. I don't think we were too limited in our ability to make cuts, it was just when you hit the ground there were elbows and knees getting cut open."

The Cardinals were forced to punt away their first possession, and Bethel (12-1) wound up posting the game's first score on Andrew O'Reilly's 31-yard field goal with 7:32 left in the first quarter. North Central, however, responded right away with a three-play, 75-yard drive that saw quarterback Spencer Stanek fire a 38-yard pass to Ryne Rezac before a 34-yard screen pass to Chad O'Kane that scored the day's first touchdown.

Bethel's next drive resulted in the first of what would become five turnovers for the hosts, as quarterback Tom Keefe's fumble was recovered by the Cardinals' Nick Samuelson at the Royals' 39-yard line. North Central called five straight running plays, scoring on Kent's one-yard run to go up, 14-3, with 3:57 still to play in the opening frame.

"Whoever wins the turnover battle in the playoffs is going to win the game," Dierking said. "We just had to keep punching at the ball because when it's this cold the ball can come out."

Taking over after a Bethel punt, the Cardinals got down the field in a hurry after a 43-yard pass from Stanek to Peter Sorenson left the visitors just two yards from the end zone. On the first play of the second period, Kent again dove in from a yard out and boosted North Central's lead to 21-3.

The Cardinals had a 31-yard field goal attempt blocked in the second period. Trey Hartema intercepted a pass on the following drive, but North Central came up empty on an attempted fourth-down conversion. Dierking ended a Bethel drive deep in the Cardinals' territory with his record-breaking pick, which tied him for the North Central single-season record (8), but the Cardinals' offense was unable to make any headway before halftime.

The Royals saw the first possession of the second half ended on a fumble at the North Central 10-yard line, but they forced a North Central punt before getting into the end zone for the first time on Jesse Phenow's 12-yard touchdown run. The Cardinals' Jordan Dean, however, put a stop to any gain in momentum by returning the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to the Bethel eight-yard line. Kent scored his third TD, again from one yard away, three plays later to extend the guests' lead to 28-10 with 9:50 left in the third period.

After the Cardinals' defense forced another three-and-out, Stanek completed a pair of passes to Sorenson before firing a 43-yard TD strike to O'Kane. With 6:25 still to play in the third period, North Central owned a commanding 35-10 lead.

"All three phases of the game need to be able to make a play when the play is there," Thorne said. "Our offensive line kept our quarterback clean the whole game, and they've done that the whole year, and our defensive guys just do a great job of getting us the ball in places where we can do something with it."

Dierking recovered a fumble on Bethel's final drive of the third quarter and returned it 28 yards to the Royals' 25. Two plays into the fourth period, Kent's two-yard TD run put the Cardinals' ahead, 41-10. 

Bethel put together a 10-play, 61-yard drive and scored on Marshall Klitzke's four-yard run with 10:38 to go, but the Royals' final drive ended on a failed fourth-down conversion in Cardinal territory.

Stanek completed 15 of 27 passes for 249 yards,  becoming North Central's all-time single-season leader in completions (245) and passing yards (3,297) while becoming the first Cardinal quarterback to throw at least 40 touchdown passes in a season (41). Sorenson caught seven passes for a game-high 109 yards.

Hartema added nine tackles for the North Central defense, which limited Bethel to its lowest scoring output of the season. Nick Slezak finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, and Dean also recovered a fumble. 

Next up for the Cardinals is a Saturday encounter with the defending national champions from Mount Union, who won their semifinal game in a shootout over Wesley College (Del.), 62-59.

"As a senior class, we have a lot of great leaders so we wanted to pave the way for these younger guys to get into new territory," Dierking said. "We want to play the best in the country, so we're ready to keep going."

The site and start time of Saturday's game will be announced Sunday by the NCAA Division III Football Committee.

Oct. 14: All times Eastern
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Salve Regina 45, at Nichols 10
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Mount Ida 14, at Dean 7
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at Thomas More 59, Waynesburg 7
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at Maine Maritime 34, Coast Guard 16
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at Finlandia 27, Trinity Bible 21
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Hamilton 28, at Bowdoin 7
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at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
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at Olivet 47, Albion 26
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at Wesleyan 41, Bates 23
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Union 27, at Rochester 0
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Amherst 40, at Colby 7
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at Western New England 41, Endicott 14
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at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
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at Plymouth State 16, Framingham State 13
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at RPI 27, Ithaca 14
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Hobart 49, at Hartwick 27
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at Ferrum 34, LaGrange 20
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at Carnegie Mellon 42, Geneva 27
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Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
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DePauw 26, at Denison 17
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at Trine 42, Kalamazoo 7
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at Washington and Lee 47, Guilford 26
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at Husson 49, Castleton 0
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Gallaudet 35, at Alfred State 19
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at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
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Brevard 41, at Methodist 17
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at Lebanon Valley 31, Stevenson 24
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Buffalo State 24, at St. Lawrence 21
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at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
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at Randolph-Macon 52, Emory and Henry 29
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at Wesley 29, Kean 9
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at Hampden-Sydney 58, Apprentice 28
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Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
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at N.C. Wesleyan 45, Greensboro 0
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at Westminster (Pa.) 49, Grove City 27
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Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
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at Westminster (Mo.) 56, Crown 15
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at Northwestern (Minn.) 29, Iowa Wesleyan 7
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at Knox 56, Grinnell 14
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at Widener 31, Lycoming 17
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Trinity (Conn.) 23, at Tufts 16
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at Mount St. Joseph 66, Earlham 7
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Ohio Northern 27, at John Carroll 20
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Baldwin Wallace 23, at Muskingum 20
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at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
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Rose-Hulman 44, at Manchester 13
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at Hanover 31, Bluffton 28
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Defiance 45, at Anderson 0
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at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
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Hiram 62, at Kenyon 56
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Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
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Williams 27, at Middlebury 26
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at Westfield State 33, Fitchburg State 21
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Marietta 43, at Wilmington 33
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at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
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Curry 40, at Becker 0
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TCNJ 20, at Rowan 14
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at SUNY-Maritime 51, Anna Maria 15
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Salisbury 28, at Montclair State 10
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at Huntingdon 28, Maryville (Tenn.) 16
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at Austin 33, Millsaps 19
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
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at Washington U. 55, Buena Vista 20
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Alma 27, at Aurora 19
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at Rockford 29, Concordia-Chicago 14
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Wisconsin Lutheran 22, at Concordia (Wis.) 19
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at Lakeland 57, Benedictine 21
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at St. Norbert 10, Chicago 0
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Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
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St. Olaf 22, at Augsburg 20
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Bethel 24, at Gustavus Adolphus 3
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St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
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at Eureka 30, Greenville 19
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Centre 27, at Trinity (Texas) 21
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Dubuque 42, at Nebraska Wesleyan 27
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Central 30, at Coe 19
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Lake Forest 56, at Cornell 28
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at Carthage 31, Elmhurst 8
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at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
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Millikin 28, at Augustana 27
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Ripon 52, at Beloit 28
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MacMurray 49, at Minnesota-Morris 13
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Macalester 21, at Lawrence 18
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at Monmouth 59, Illinois College 14
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at UW-Stevens Point 26, UW-Eau Claire 3
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Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
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Final
at Wooster 38, Oberlin 28
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Texas Lutheran 41, at East Texas Baptist 34
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at UW-Stout 21, UW-River Falls 16
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UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
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Final
Sewanee 34, at Birmingham-Southern 13
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Final
at Hope 22, Adrian 3
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Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
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Cancelled
La Verne at Occidental
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Whitworth 17, at Pacific Lutheran 14
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Final
at Cal Lutheran 42, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 20
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at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
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Final
at Pacific 35, Puget Sound 27
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Pomona-Pitzer 45, at Whittier 23
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Final
at Western Connecticut 28, Massachusetts Maritime 21
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Final
at St. Scholastica 56, Martin Luther 21
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Final - 5OT
at St. John Fisher 39, Utica 36
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Final - OT
at Heidelberg 48, Otterbein 45
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at Shenandoah 38, Bridgewater 20
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Southwestern 60, at Belhaven 31
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Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
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at Louisiana College 52, McMurry 34
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at Simpson 38, Luther 17
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at Chapman 45, Redlands 26
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Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
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Oct. 20: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Gettysburg at Johns Hopkins
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Oct. 14: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 49, King's 14
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Final - OT
at Cortland 20, Alfred 17
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Final
at Wesley 29, Kean 9
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Final
Frostburg State 59, at William Paterson 7
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Final
at Wittenberg 49, Allegheny 15
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Final
at Brockport 48, Morrisville State 7
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Final
Washington and Jefferson 49, at Bethany 14
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Final
Ohio Wesleyan 16, at Wabash 13
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Final
at Mount Union 72, Capital 14
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Final
at Wartburg 42, Loras 11
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Final
at Berry 34, Hendrix 10
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Final
Springfield 35, at Merchant Marine 13
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 65, Howard Payne 0
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Final
St. John's 35, at Carleton 0
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Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 30, Carroll 0
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Final
Concordia-Moorhead 45, at Hamline 0
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Final
Case Western Reserve 63, at Thiel 28
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 28, at UW-Platteville 14
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Final
Linfield 49, at Lewis and Clark 14
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Final
at George Fox 58, Willamette 12
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Final
Hardin-Simmons 35, at Sul Ross State 10
Box Score
Oct. 16: All times Eastern
Final
at Wheaton (Ill.) 42, North Central (Ill.) 20
Box Score Recap
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Gettysburg at Johns Hopkins
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