Setting the Scene: All eyes are on Alliance this week as the Cardinals return to the scene of one of the most significant games in their history looking to extend their season.
Series History: This is the second football meeting between the two institutions.
The teams met at Mount Union Stadium in the national semifinals on Dec. 14, 2013, and the Purple Raiders escaped with a 41-40 victory in a back-and-forth contest that was played in a driving snowstorm.
Trailing, 27-16, the Cardinals scored three unanswered touchdowns on a pair of one-yard runs by Matt Randolph and a fumble recovery in the end zone by Kolton Kuczynski to take a 34-27 lead early in the fourth period.
A third one-yard score by Randolph gave North Central a 40-35 lead with just 1:38 to play, but Raider quarterback Kevin Burke completed a 26-yard TD pass to Mike Collichio just 31 seconds later which proved to be the game-winner.
National Rankings: North Central is ranked No. 5 in the most recent NCAA Division III National Top 25 Polls released by D3football.com and the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). Mount Union was ranked No. 2 by the AFCA and No. 1 by D3football.com.
Scouting the Purple Raiders: Mount Union owned a 41-7 lead by halftime and allowed Hanover to gain just 80 yards of total offense in a 65-14 first-round victory.
Quarterback D'Angelo Fulford threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns, finding Justin Hill 10 times for 175 yards, while running back Josh Petruccelli scored three TDs and gained 118 yards on 15 carries.
The Purple Raiders enter the game as the Division III national leader in scoring offense (55.5 points per game), passing efficiency (221.82) and first downs (313) while ranking second in both total offense (557.9 yards per game) and total defense (186.2 ypg).
Fulford is the individual national leader in passing efficiency (229.5), while Hill ranks first in receiving yards (1,460).
The national runner-up in 2018, Mount Union has won 13 national titles, most recently in 2017.
This Week for the Cardinals: North Central won its first-round game for the 11th straight time in the postseason last week with a 51-15 win over Wabash.
The Cardinals put the game away by scoring the final 23 points of the contest and hit the 50-point mark for the fifth time in the last six weeks.
Ethan Greenfield established a new North Central single-game record by rushing for 301 yards on 29 carries and tied a single-game record with five rushing touchdowns. Greenfield also claimed the Cardinals' single-season records for rushing yards (1,609), all-purpose yards (1,955) and rushing toucdhdowns (22).
Andrew Kamienski gained 163 yards on nine receptions from Broc Rutter, who completed 17 of 19 passes for 230 yards. Kamienski is now the Cardinals' all-time leader in receiving yards in a single season (1,432).
Bryan Beauchamp turned in team highs of 10 tackles and three tackles for loss, while Talha Ayhan recorded two quarterback sacks and Jake Beesley intercepted his team-leading third pass of the season.
The four semifinalists for the award will be announced on Thursday, Dec. 12 and the winner of the 27th Gagliardi Trophy will be announced Friday, Dec. 20 prior to the Division III national championship game, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl.
North Central in the NCAA Playoffs: The Cardinals own a 14-11 overall record in the Division III Football Championship, including victories in each of their last 11 first-round games.
North Central reached the national quarterfinals in 2010 and the national semifinals in 2013.
National Statistical Rankings: The Cardinals currently rank first among 247 Division III programs in total offense (571.3 yards per game) while ranking second in scoring offense (54.6 points per game) and passing efficiency (198.37), third in first downs (288), fourth in red-zone offense (91.9%), fifth in third-down conversion percentage (54.3%) and 10th in passing offense (325.5 ypg).
Rutter ranks second nationally passing efficiency (205.7) and completion percentage (73.2%) while ranking third in passing touchdowns (42) and fifth in passing yards (3,350).
Kamienski ranks second in receiving yards (1,432) and third in touchdown receptions (21) and Greenfield ranks second in rushing touchdowns (22), third in yards per rushing attempt (8.79) and fourth in rushing yards (1,609) and all-purpose yards per game (177.73).
CCIW Single-Season Records: The Cardinals set new CCIW single-season records for points scored (507), total offensive yards (5,188) and passing touchdowns (41) in conference play.
North Central's averages of 576.4 yards per game and 56.3 points per game are well above the previous records of 513.7 (Wheaton, 2012) and 49.6 (North Central, 2018) as well.
Rutter completed 38 touchdown passes against CCIW foes to break the previous single-season record of 28, set by Millikin's Nicco Stepina last season.
Kamienski caught 75 passes for 1,166 yards against conference foes, breaking the CCIW record for receptions in a single season (72), previously held by Ed Brady of Illinois Wesleyan (1983) and Jim Jorden of Wheaton (1985), while the previous conference record for receiving yards (1,110) was set by Wheaton's Steve Thonn in 1983.
North Central Career Rankings: Rutter is the Cardinals' all-time leader in pass completions (937), passing attempts (1,382), passing yards (13,024) touchdown passes (131).
Kamienski is the program's all-time leader in career receptions (223), receiving yards (3,170) and receiving touchdowns (36) while ranking fifth in all-purpose yards (3,497) and points scored (216), while Ayhan ranks 10th in quarterback sacks (16.5) and 16th in tackles for loss (24.5).
In just his second season of collegiate play, Greenfield ranks fifth all-time in rushing yards (2,326), sixth in rushing touchdowns (30), seventh in all-purpose yards (2,902) and eighth in points scored (198).
The Rest of the Bracket: The winner of this week's game will take on the winner of the second-round game between Wesley (Delaware) and Delaware Valley (Pennsylvania) in the national quarterfinals at a site to be determined.
The other two second-round matchups in North Central's section of the bracket feature Union (New York) traveling to Salisbury (Maryland) and Brockport (New York) visiting Muhlenberg (Pennsylvania).