The North Central College football team's fourth consecutive victory was perhaps its most complete mastery yet, as the Cardinals visited Elmhurst College on Saturday and never let the Bluejays up for air in a 49-7 triumph at Langhorst Field.
North Central (9-1, 7-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) secured the 13th CCIW Championship in the program's history with the win, sharing this year's title with Illinois Wesleyan University. By virtue of the Cardinals' 26-13 victory over IWU on Sept.16, North Central receives the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Football Championship, which begins next week.
The Cardinals owned a 21-0 lead after less than six minutes of play on Saturday, stifling Elmhurst's Senior Day celebration. The visitors drove 65 yards in eight plays on the game's opening possession and scored on Austin Breunig's 10-yard run. The Bluejays lined up to punt on their first possession, but Ben Wongburst through the line and blocked the kick. Storm Simmons recovered the ball at the Elmhurst 34-yard line, and Breunig ran for a 20-yard score two plays later.
Wong then forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, which was recovered by Zach Greenberg at the Bluejays' 34. Broc Rutter fired a 25-yard pass to Michael Sfikas before finding Alex Rose in the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown pass, boosting the lead to 21-0 at a time when Elmhurst (2-8, 2-6 CCIW) had run a total of three offensive plays.
The North Central defense stopped the first of six fourth-down conversion attempts on the following Bluejay drive, and Breunig completed a 75-yard scoring drive with a four-yard TD run just before the first quarter ended. The Cardinals' final scoring drive of the first half started at the Elmhurst 36-yard line after a 34-yard punt return by Pat Cravens and concluded with Breunig's fourth TD run of the afternoon, a one-yard plunge which left the score at 35-0, where it would remain until halftime.
The visitors needed just over three minutes to add a pair of touchdowns to the lead, yielding a large enough margin to pull the starters from the field. Billy Douds sacked Elmhurst quarterback Orlando Hernandez on the opening drive of the third period, forcing a fumble that was returned 15 yards to the end zone by Tommy Sora. Wong blocked his second punt of the day on the next drive, which was recovered by JD Gieson. Just 16 yards from the goal line, the Cardinals once again turned to Breunig who covered the distance on two carries, the latter a 10-yarder which gave him a school-record five rushing touchdowns in the contest and tied the single-game record of five total touchdowns he accomplished the previous week against Carthage.
Breunig finished the day with 129 rushing yards on 19 carries and 21 yards on two receptions, and he established new North Central single-season records for all-purpose yards (1,686), total touchdowns (19) and total points scored (114). Rutter completed 11 of 12 passes for 151 yards.
The North Central defense forced a total of four turnovers, as Kylee Dorsey and Zach Witken intercepted passes. The Cardinals recorded 18 tackles for loss, matching the second-highest single-game total in school history, and seven quarterback sacks. DJ Warkenthien made six tackles for loss and two sacks among his career-high 13 tackles, while Andrew Kray also finished with two sacks and Wong and Sora each made seven total stops.
Pairings and first-round sites for the Division III Football Championships will be announced on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. at ncaa.com. First-round games will be played Saturday, Nov. 18.