ADA, Ohio — The Ohio Northern football team opened its 2011 season with a 38-20 victory over North Carolina Wesleyan on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon at Dial-Roberson Stadium.
The Polar Bears improve to 1-0 and won their season opener for the seventh time in the last eight years, while the Battling Bishops fall to 0-1.
Sophomore Justin Buenger ran 25 times for 112 yards and a touchdown in his first career start at tailback to lead the ONU offense.
Defensively, junior Joe Powell had eight tackles, (1.5 for loss), a fumble recovery and a 41-yard interception return for a touchdown to pace the Polar Bear defense.
Senior Trygve Henrickson and sophomore Malcolm Burrell added eight tackles apeice and senior Vince Calloway returned an interception 79 yards for a score for Northern.
Sophomore Tyler Rue came off the bench to complete 9 of 13 passes for 72 yards and junior DeMarqus Payne rushed five times for 83 yards and a score.
The Polar Bear defense made three game-changing plays and the ONU offense scored on three long drives and a 66-yard run by Payne.
With ONU clinging to a 7-6 lead midway through the second period, NCWC returned a fumble to the ONU 5-yard line.
But the Polar Bear defense registered a goal-line stand, stopping the Bishops on four straight plays, to preserve the 7-6 lead.
Sophomore Luke Rice added a 27-yard field goal to give ONU a 10-6 lead early in the third period, setting up the second big defensive play of the day.
With NCWC facing a third-and-6 from the ONU 33 yard line, Calloway intercepted a pass and returned it 79 yards for a TD to give Ohio Northern some breathing room and a 17-6 lead.
Powell's 41-yard TD return iced the game for Northern, giving the hosts a 31-6 lead with 11:57 left to play.
The Polar Bear offense scored on drives of 13 plays, 14 plays and 11 plays.
Junior Chad Mason snuck in from three-yards out to cap a 13-play, 66-yard drive and give ONU a 7-3 lead with 1:47 left in the opening quarter.
Rice's field goal capped a 14-play, 60-yard drive to open the second half and give Northern a 10-6 lead.
Buenger made it 24-6 early in the fourth quarter when he banged in from three yards out to cap an 11-play, 72-yard scoring drive.
Jamal Smith rushed 23 times for 73 yards and a score and John Jackson completed 20 of 35 passes for 197 to lead the Battling Bishops on offense.
James Wallace had a game-high 14 tackles and a sack defensively for NCWC.
The Polar Bears will return to action Oct. 17 when they play host to Otterbein in the Ohio Athletic Conference opener for both teams at 1:30 pm at Dial-Roberson Stadium.