Emerging from a week away from competition, the North Central College football team kept the perfect start to its season intact on Saturday, cutting through North Park University with a prolific passing effort and taking down the Vikings, 35-14, at the Holmgren Athletic Complex.
The sixth-ranked Cardinals (5-0, 3-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) scored all five of their touchdowns on passes from quarterback Broc Rutter, who completed 30 of 36 passes for a season-high 358 yards, posting the fourth-highest single-game completion total in the program's history and coming within a single touchdown pass of the North Central single-game record. The most recent Cardinal quarterback to throw for five TDs in a single game was Dylan Wardenin a 2014 win over Augustana. Warden caught three of Rutter's scoring passes on Saturday.
The Cardinals unwittingly yielded the game's first score on a special-teams gaffe on the opening kickoff, as the ball went unfielded until North Park's Mike Harris recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. North Central bounced back to tie the score once the offense took the field, advancing 67 yards in 10 plays before Rutter found Ryan Kuhl for a nine-yard TD pass. After a Viking punt, Rutter completed 7 of 11 passes in a 15-play, 91-yard drive and put the Cardinals in front on his eight-yard scoring strike to Warden with 14:28 on the clock in the second quarter.
North Park (1-5, 0-4 CCIW), which entered the game leading the CCIW in turnovers forced, took possession following a fumble at the Cardinals' 40-yard line to begin its lone offensive scoring drive, an eight-play possession which culminated in running back Enrique Menendez's three-yard touchdown run which knotted the score at 14-14 with 8:19 left in the half. A nine-play drive featuring five straight completed passes by Rutter nudged the Cardinals back in front following Warden's second scoring reception of the day, an 11-yarder near the left sideline with 5:04 on the clock.
Taking over following a North Park punt with just 1:09 to halftime, the Cardinals took possession at their own 22 intent on extending their lead further before the break. Rutter connected with Alex Ulmer twice and Austin Breunig and Michael LeBlanc once each to get into Viking territory. On second down-and-10 at the North Park 34, Rutter scrambled and fired a pass to the back of the end zone, and Warden outleaped a pair of Viking defenders to secure his third touchdown with 15 seconds left and sending the Cardinals into halftime with a 28-14 advantage.
The final scoring drive of the day came late in the third period, as an eight-play, 54-yard jaunt was capped off by Rutter's fifth TD pass of the day, a six-yard dart to tight end Nolan Brannick.
The Cardinals outgained North Park, 481-198, and converted eight of 12 third-down attempts. Ulmer hauled in a career-high 11 receptions for 130 yards, while Kuhl made six catches for 86 yards and Warden added six grabs for 80 yards. Oshayne Brown paced North Central's running game with 58 yards on 12 carries. The defensive unit, which netted nine tackles for loss, got six tackles from Tommy Sora and three tackles for loss from Justin Stuursma.
North Park quarterback Jace Bankford, making his first start of the season, completed 15 of 24 passes for 117 yards and Menendez gained 77 yards on 25 rushing attempts. Chaun Maiava was the Vikings' top tackler with 10 total stops.
The Cardinals host 10th-ranked Wheaton College (6-0, 4-0 CCIW) next Saturday in the annual Battle for the Little Brass Bell. Kickoff at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.