North Central Pulls Away for Key CCIW Win at IWU

More news about: North Central (Ill.)

After taking its opponents' best shots throughout much of the first half, the North Central College football team showed its class and pulled away with key plays in all three phases of the game Saturday, as the 10th-ranked Cardinals notched a 38-20 victory over 13th-ranked Illinois Wesleyan University in a game at Tucci Stadium which carried postseason implications for both sides.

The Cardinals (8-1, 7-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) pulled level with Illinois Wesleyan (7-2, 7-1 CCIW) at the top of the CCIW standings and can clinch a share of a third straight CCIW title and the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Football Championship with a victory over Millikin University in the Cardinals' regular-season finale next Saturday.

North Central never trailed in the game, but had difficulty separating itself from the Titans in the early going. After forcing IWU to punt on the first drive of the afternoon, the Cardinals opened the scoring with 10:50 on the clock in the first quarter as Broc Rutter lofted a perfectly-placed pass over the shoulder of Cameron Moore, who caught the ball in stride in the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown reception. 

The Titans forced the first turnover of the day on North Central's next possession, as defensive end Eric Dubose swatted down a backward pass and recovered the ball at the Cardinals' 26-yard line. IWU leveled the score at 7-7 six plays later as quarterback Brandon Bauer ran off left tackle for a one-yard score. North Central had a short field to start its next drive as well, as a 23-yard punt return by Pat Cravens set the visitors up at the Titans' 32. Rutter found Andrew Kamienski on a fade route for a two-yard TD pass four plays later and the Cardinals led once again, 14-7.

IWU thwarted another Cardinal drive by forcing a turnover late in the first half, as Justin Correll intercepted a pass at the hosts' 36-yard line. Once again, the Titans turned the miscue into points, as Bauer hit Dean Zigulich for a 24-yard scoring pass with 2:30 on the clock to tie the score at 14-14.

The contest, however, stayed tied for only 13 more seconds, as Moore, lining up as a kickoff returner for the first time this season, received the ensuing kick and evaded the Titan coverage en route to a 94-yard touchdown return. It is North Central's first touchdown on a kick return since Alex Ulmer's 91-yarder against North Park University on Oct. 11, 2014 and the third-longest in the program's history.

After carrying a 21-14 advantage into halftime, the Cardinals took the opening possession of the second half 63 yards in 12 plays and extended the lead to 28-14 on a one-yard touchdown plunge by Ethan Greenfield, who returned to action after missing the previous four games. Facing fourth down-and-three at the Cardinals' eight-yard line on the ensuing drive, Bauer completed a pass to Zigulich which appeared to give the Titans the necessary yardage, but Zigulich fumbled and Matt Sutherland recovered for North Central. 

The Cardinals faced a third down-and-14 at their own eight-yard line, and standing in against a heavy pass rush, Rutter connected with Michael Sfikas on a post route in the open field, which turned into an 86-yard play that gave the visitors a first-and-goal at the IWU seven-yard line. The completion is the third-longest in the Cardinals' history. Rutter covered the remaining distance on his own on the next play, extending the lead to 35-14.

North Central stopped the next Titan drive on fourth down near midfield, and six plays later called on kicker Derik Judka. The freshman split the uprights on a 47-yard field goal, making him a perfect 12 for 12 on the season. 

Rutter completed 21 of 33 passes for 285 yards, hitting Moore six times for 75 yards and Sfikas five times for 125. Greenfield contributed a team-high 81 rushing yards on 18 carries. The Cardinals' defense, which totaled five quarterback sacks, saw Jake Beesley and DJ Warkenthien share team-high tackling honors with nine stops each. Warkenthien collected two sacks, while Beesley and Tommy Hyland each intercepted passes. 

Saturday will be Senior Day at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, with festivities observed prior to the 1:00 p.m. kickoff.

Dec. 14: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 24, Mount Union 16
@ Woodforest Bank Stadium; Shenandoah, Texas
Box Score Recap Photos
Dec. 8: All times Eastern
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 31, UW-Whitewater 14
Box Score Recap Photos
at Mount Union 28, Johns Hopkins 20
Video Box Score Recap Photos
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