December 7, 2013

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.

Sep. 30: All times Eastern
Final
Randolph-Macon 24, at Shenandoah 19
Box Score Photos
Final
at Washington and Lee 49, Emory and Henry 23
Box Score
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
Final
Massachusetts Maritime 30, at Fitchburg State 0
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Final
Becker 42, at Gallaudet 18
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Final
at Hobart 38, Merchant Marine 35
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Final
RPI 51, at Rochester 13
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Final
Endicott 21, at MIT 9
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Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Juniata 17
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Final
at William Paterson 18, Montclair State 13
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at Wesleyan 34, Hamilton 6
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Final
at Tufts 12, Bates 7
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Final
Wabash 45, at Hiram 21
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Final
Middlebury 35, at Colby 14
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Final
Amherst 31, at Bowdoin 10
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Final
Frostburg State 25, at Kean 18
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Final
at DePauw 48, Kenyon 35
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Final
Ferrum 30, at Greensboro 0
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Final
Maryville (Tenn.) 52, at Methodist 13
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Final
FDU-Florham 32, at Wilkes 28
Final
at Castleton 23, Anna Maria 13
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Final
Moravian 33, at Ursinus 32
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Final
Stevenson 48, at Misericordia 0
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Final
at St. Lawrence 42, Springfield 14
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Final
Thomas More 45, at Westminster (Pa.) 35
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Final
Alma 56, at Kalamazoo 26
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Final
Franklin and Marshall 20, at Dickinson 10
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Final
Wesley 63, at Southern Virginia 9
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Final
Adrian 28, at Albion 21
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Final
Husson 33, at SUNY-Maritime 12
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Final
Apprentice 24, at Alfred State 8
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Final
at Salisbury 41, TCNJ 6
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Final
at St. John Fisher 28, Buffalo State 24
Recap
Final
Salve Regina 47, at Curry 14
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Final
at Gettysburg 38, McDaniel 23
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Final
Delaware Valley 48, at Lebanon Valley 0
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Final
at Denison 21, Ohio Wesleyan 14
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Final
at Ithaca 23, Utica 14
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Final
Alfred 49, at Morrisville State 24
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Final
Western New England 56, at Nichols 27
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Final
at Albright 27, King's 7
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Final
at Guilford 59, Catholic 0
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Final
Muhlenberg 33, at Susquehanna 30
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Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 41, Huntingdon 31
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Final
at MacMurray 31, Minnesota-Morris 10
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Final
at Chicago 38, Birmingham-Southern 34
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Final
Westminster (Mo.) 35, at Crown 7
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at Allegheny 26, Oberlin 21
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Final
Mount Ida 15, at Norwich 14
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Final
Trinity (Conn.) 38, at Williams 13
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Final
at Marietta 62, Baldwin Wallace 56
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Final
at Heidelberg 27, Muskingum 24
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Final
at WPI 21, Union 14
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Final
at Coast Guard 36, Maine Maritime 30
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Final
John Carroll 67, at Wilmington 7
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Final
Mount Union 38, at Ohio Northern 21
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Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
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Final
Mount St. Joseph 42, at Hanover 6
Final - 4OT
Widener 24, at Lycoming 21
Final
Defiance 59, at Earlham 28
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Final
at Trine 62, Concordia-Chicago 19
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Final
Capital 42, at Otterbein 41
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Final - OT
at Westfield State 14, Plymouth State 13
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Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
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Final
at Rose-Hulman 44, Anderson 10
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Final
at Bridgewater 45, Hampden-Sydney 35
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Final
Waynesburg 14, at Grove City 10
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Final
Cortland 50, at Hartwick 47
Final
at Hendrix 35, Centre 28
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Final
Eureka 27, at Greenville 13
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Final
Northwestern (Minn.) 25, at Iowa Wesleyan 18
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Final
at Lakeland 16, Concordia (Wis.) 7
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Final
at Benedictine 67, Rockford 15
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Final
Aurora 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 13
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Final
Nebraska Wesleyan 27, at Luther 24
Final
Rhodes 36, at Sewanee 21
Box Score
Final
at St. Norbert 35, Lake Forest 21
Box Score
Final
Concordia-Moorhead 46, at Gustavus Adolphus 21
Box Score
Final
at Carleton 34, Hamline 31
Box Score
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
Box Score
Final
UW-Whitewater 30, at UW-Platteville 24
Box Score
Final
Buena Vista 34, at Loras 24
Box Score
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 53, Sul Ross State 29
Box Score
Final
UW-Stevens Point 28, at UW-Eau Claire 19
Box Score
Final
at Lawrence 36, Beloit 22
Box Score
Final
at Monmouth 57, Cornell 14
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Final
at Coe 37, Wartburg 34
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Box Score
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score Recap
Final
Elmhurst 14, at Augustana 3
Final
Macalester 16, at Ripon 8
Final
at Illinois College 50, Grinnell 14
Final
at Louisiana College 35, Howard Payne 7
Box Score
Final
East Texas Baptist 60, at Belhaven 47
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Washington and Jefferson 62, at Thiel 14
3:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Morthland
Video
3:00 PM
St. Scholastica at Martin Luther
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Final
Carthage 38, at Carroll 14
Box Score
Final
at UW-Oshkosh 45, UW-Stout 17
3rd - 08:29
42 Willamette
12 Puget Sound
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4:00 PM
Whittier at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps
Video Live Stats
Halftime
10 Pacific
17 Pacific Lutheran
Video Preview Preview Live Stats Live Stats
Start 3rd
0 Lewis and Clark
42 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
5:00 PM
Framingham State at Mass-Dartmouth
Video Live Stats
2nd - 02:30
23 Averett
20 LaGrange
Live Stats Audio
4:50 2nd Q
15 Whitworth
17 George Fox
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5:05 PM
UW-River Falls at UW-La Crosse
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1st qtr - 13:05
6 Olivet
0 Hope
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1st - 12:43
0 Bethany
0 Carnegie Mellon
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1st - 14:00
7 St. Vincent
0 Case Western Reserve
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6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
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6:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Western Connecticut
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7:00 PM
Berry at Washington U.
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7:00 PM
North Park at Millikin
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10:00 PM
Pomona-Pitzer at Chapman
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10:00 PM
La Verne at Cal Lutheran
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10:00 PM
Occidental at Redlands
Video Live Stats Audio
Oct. 1: All times Eastern
Final
at Hobart 38, Merchant Marine 35
Box Score Recap
Final
at Johns Hopkins 52, Juniata 17
Box Score
Final
at Salisbury 41, TCNJ 6
Box Score
Final
Thomas More 45, at Westminster (Pa.) 35
Box Score Recap
Final
Wabash 45, at Hiram 21
Box Score
Final
at St. John Fisher 28, Buffalo State 24
Recap
Final
Stevenson 48, at Misericordia 0
Box Score
Final
at St. Lawrence 42, Springfield 14
Box Score
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 41, Huntingdon 31
Box Score
Final
Mount Union 38, at Ohio Northern 21
Box Score Photos
Final
Franklin 41, at Manchester 27
Box Score
Final
Wittenberg 41, at Wooster 13
Box Score
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 48, at Illinois Wesleyan 24
Final
UW-Whitewater 30, at UW-Platteville 24
Box Score
Final
St. John's 42, at Bethel 27
Box Score
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 66, McMurry 3
Box Score Recap
Final
at Hardin-Simmons 53, Sul Ross State 29
Box Score
Final
East Texas Baptist 60, at Belhaven 47
Final
Dubuque 35, at Central 17
Box Score
Final
at St. Thomas 55, Augsburg 7
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at UW-Oshkosh 45, UW-Stout 17
Start 3rd
0 Lewis and Clark
42 Linfield
Video Live Stats Audio
6:00 PM
Christopher Newport at Rowan
Video Live Stats Audio Audio