/seasons/2013/contrib/20131214mgrw8b

North Central Edged Out by Defending Champs

More news about: North Central (Ill.)

Faced with a machup against the defending national champions, the North Central College football team had a NCAA Division III heavyweight on the ropes Saturday, but the University of Mount Union Purple Raiders punched back with a late touchdown and ended the Cardinals' banner year with a 41-40 win over North Central in the semifinals of the Division III Football Championship.



Making history by simply taking the field at Mount Union Stadium, the Cardinals (13-1) came within inches of a win over the No. 1-ranked team in the nation and a program which has won 11 Division III national titles.

"We believe we can play with the best teams in the nation," said quarterbackSpencer Stanek, the only North Central signal-caller to start a quarterfinal or semifinal playoff game. "We say that every week and that's our rallying cry in the offseason. It was great to get a chance to play a team like Mount Union, who's been at the top of the Division III level for so many years.

"To come out here and compete with them right up to the last minute of the game, it's just a great experience that we're never going to forget the rest of our lives."

In addition to its opponent, the Cardinals had to contend with a steady snowfall which lasted throughout the game and affected players on both teams' footing all afternoon. The unsteady terrain allowed special-teams returners to elude pursuers and produce big plays, the first of which came on the opening kickoff. North Central's John Skokna weaved through the Raiders' coverage for a 58-yard return, setting the visitors up with a short field at the Mount Union 21-yard line.

Within five plays, North Central made the first of six trips to the end zone, as Stanek lofted a pass to Peter Sorenson on a fade pattern for a three-yard touchdown pass. Mount Union tied the score at 7-7 just four plays later, however, as tailback B.J. Mitchell broke free for a 49-yard run on the first play and quarterback Kevin Burke capped off the drive with a 24-yard run after less than five minutes of play.

Cardinal running back Ryan Kent made the game's next big play, scampering 73 yards to the end zone on the second play of the following drive, but a penalty nullified the score. North Central was able to work its way into field goal range, where a 28-yard kick by Nick Dace nudged the guests back in front, 10-7.

The Raiders (14-0) followed with an eight-play, 59-yard drive and took the lead for the first time on Mitchell's nine-yard run with 3:10 still to go in the first period. The extra-point attempt failed, leaving the score at 13-10. The teams traded punts before North Central pulled ahead once again by traveling 84 yards in 12 plays. After a third straight third-down conversion, the Cardinals got a 17-yard run from Stanek and a 14-yard run from Matt Randolph before Stanek once again found Sorenson for an 11-yard TD with 7:51 left in the first half. The extra-point kick was blocked, but the Cardinals still led, 16-13.

Randolph wound up factoring heavily into the Cardinals' plans after Kent left the game late in the first half due to an injury and did not return. Randolph gained 68 yards and scored three touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts, all of which were career highs.

"Coach (Turner) Pugh, our running backs coach, tells us to always be ready in case a guy goes down," Randolph said. "The offensive line did a great job of opening up holes and creating seams so we could get at least three or four yards every time."

North Central's defense forced a punt on the Raiders' next drive, but Mount Union linebacker Jonathan Gonell intercepted a pass on the following possession and returned it 37 yards to the end zone. It was just the second interception of the season for Stanek and the first in 251 passing attempts. The Raiders' pass rush ended North Central's last drive of the half by forcing a fumble and recovering it 37 yards from another score, but Burke's Hail Mary pass at the end of the half was picked off by Sorenson, who entered the game on defense along with fellow receiver Demarco Tillman to guard against the throw. The Cardinals went into halftime facing a 20-16 deficit despite outgaining the hosts, 225-219.

North Central also had to play the second half without three-time All-Region left tackle Jace Werkheiser, who was injured in the second period and tried to return before sitting out the rest of the day.

"Jace is an amazing player, and it stinks when a good player goes down, but I thought (backup left tackle) John Hosey did a great job today," Stanek said. "I only got pressured once and it was on the last drive."

Mount Union threatened to seize control of the contest on the first drive of the third quarter, eating up more than six minutes in a 13-play, 79-yard drive and pulling ahead, 27-16, on Burke's three-yard TD run. The Cardinals gathered themselves and responded with an extended scoring drive of their own, covering 79 yards in 14 plays and crossing the goal line on Randolph's one-yard run with 3:40 on the clock. Once again, the extra-point attempt was blocked, leaving North Central at a 27-22 disadvantage.

After forcing another Mount Union punt, the Cardinals got another big special-teams return from Shane Dierking, who ran the ball back 48 yards to the Raiders' five-yard line. Three plays later, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Randolph's second one-yard scoring run returned the lead to North Central, 28-27. The Cardinals attempted a two-point conversion and were denied. 

Both teams saw their next drive ended on a failed fourth-down conversion attempt. Mount Union dropped back to punt with just over 11 minutes to play, but the snap was mishandled and recovered in the end zone by the Cardinals' Kolton Kuczynskifor a touchdown. For the fourth time, the extra-point attempt was unsuccessful and the visitors owned a 34-27 edge with 11:06 to play.

Sticking exclusively to the ground game, Mount Union constructed a 12-play drive that ventured 65 yards and resulted in a 15-yard touchdown run by reserve tailback Logan Nemeth. Burke ran around left end for the two-point conversion, giving the hosts a slim 35-34 lead with 5:00 to play.

A 32-yard kickoff return by Jordan Dean enabled the Cardinals to open the next possession near midfield. Stanek completed first-down passes of 15 yards to A.J. Thomas and 14 yards to Sorenson to move into striking distance. On second down at the Raiders' 18-yard line, Stanek lofted a pass to the left sideline for Sorenson, who dove, kept a foot in bounds, and secured the 17-yard catch with almost no room to spare. The catch was upheld after an instant-replay review.

"I thought I caught it," said Sorenson, who finished with 119 yards on 10 catches, set a North Central single-season record with 16 TD receptions and became the second Cardinal wideout to top 1,000 yards receiving in a single year (1,109). "My defender was in man coverage, so I knew if I could get to his outside and get positioning I could get open, and Spencer made a great throw."

Randolph found the end zone for the third time on the next play, and once again Mount Union stuffed the two-point conversion attempt. With 1:38 to play, the Cardinals owned a 40-35 advantage.

Having focused most of its efforts on the running game throughout the second half, the Raiders took to the air on their final drive with devastating effect. Burke hit Nemeth for 20 yards and Luc Meacham for 19 before delivering a 26-yard TD pass to Mike Collichio wih 1:07 still on the clock. North Central was able to deny Mount Union's two-point conversion.

Stanek completed a pair of first-down passes to Sorenson before the Cardinals came up empty on four straight throws at the Mount Union 30-yard line to surrender possession.

Stanek finished the game 19 of 37 passing for 198 yards and ran for 61 yards on 11 carries. He finished the season having established new North Central records for completions (264), yards (3,495), touchdowns (43) and completion percentage (71.0). 

Cardinal linebacker Nick Slezak totaled 21 tackles, establishing a new North Central single-game record, while defensive end John Focosi put up 2.5 tackles for loss.

Burke completed 12 of 19 passes for 163 yards and ran 28 times for 131. Mitchell also hit the 100-yard mark, covering 124 yards on 19 carries. Gonnell was the Raiders' top tackler with 13 total stops.

The loss brought an end to the careers of a North Central senior class which compiled 44 wins in 50 games over the past four years and were part of the Cardinals' first two advancements past the second round of the postseason.

"We're really proud of these seniors," said Cardinal head coach John Thorne. "They're fabulous students, they're great men and they're pretty darn good football players, so we're going to mis them a lot."

Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Framingham State 50, Massachusetts Maritime 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Muhlenberg 56, at Juniata 40
Video Box Score
Final
at Dean 25, Becker 10
Box Score
Final
Salisbury 27, at TCNJ 7
Box Score
Final
MIT 38, at Catholic 21
Video Box Score
Final
Merchant Marine 56, at Maine Maritime 31
Video Box Score
Final
at Hobart 34, Endicott 17
Video Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Morrisville State 44, Nichols 22
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Albright 9, Widener 7
Video
Final
Christopher Newport 16, at Montclair State 8
Video Box Score
Final
at Westminster (Pa.) 41, Bethany 14
Video
Final
Middlebury 41, at Bowdoin 14
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Williams 24, at Colby 7
Video Box Score
Final
Amherst 36, at Hamilton 6
Video Box Score
Final
Ursinus 35, at Moravian 17
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Trinity (Conn.) 51, at Bates 0
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at LaGrange 38, Brevard 28
Video Box Score
Final
Geneva 33, at Thiel 24
Video
Final
at Plymouth State 37, Mass-Dartmouth 7
Video Box Score
Final
Kean 28, at Southern Virginia 14
Video Box Score
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Union 17, at Curry 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Carnegie Mellon 37, Thomas More 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Lycoming 44, at King's 41
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Western New England 21, Husson 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at DePauw 51, Wooster 24
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Ohio Wesleyan 37, Allegheny 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Misericordia 43, Wilkes 14
Video
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at N.C. Wesleyan 35, Maryville (Tenn.) 25
Video Box Score
Final
Huntingdon 31, at Ferrum 28
Video Video Box Score
Final - OT
at McDaniel 27, Gettysburg 20
Video Video Preview Box Score
Final
at Buffalo State 33, RPI 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Franklin and Marshall 27, at Susquehanna 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Denison 45, Oberlin 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Northwestern (Minn.) 10, Westminster (Mo.) 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Eureka 44, Crown 20
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Lebanon Valley 24, FDU-Florham 14
Video Box Score
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Ohio Northern 35, Otterbein 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Rose-Hulman 37, Defiance 14
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Marietta 49, Muskingum 25
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Franklin 59, at Bluffton 30
Box Score
Final
at Hanover 64, Anderson 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Mount St. Joseph 31, at Manchester 14
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
Worcester State 34, at Westfield State 10
Video Box Score
Final
Coast Guard 13, at Norwich 9
Video Box Score
Final
at Fitchburg State 31, Bridgewater State 29
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Millsaps 17, Sewanee 13
Video Box Score
Final
at Rhodes 35, Birmingham-Southern 9
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hendrix 36, Austin 24
Video Box Score
Final
at Martin Luther 34, Greenville 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final - OT
at Trinity (Texas) 41, Chapman 35
Video Preview Box Score Live stats
Final
at Loras 73, Buena Vista 34
Video Video Box Score
Final
at Wartburg 30, Washington U. 20
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Gustavus Adolphus 51, Hamline 7
Video Box Score
Final
Augsburg 48, at Carleton 28
Video Box Score
Final
at Bethel 64, St. Olaf 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Luther 21, Dubuque 17
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Central 52, Nebraska Wesleyan 27
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Simpson 38, at Coe 33
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
St. Norbert 66, at Grinnell 13
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Knox 13, Ripon 6
Video Box Score
Final
at MacMurray 32, Iowa Wesleyan 14
Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
Southwestern 37, at Louisiana College 34
Video Box Score
Final
Monmouth 26, at Macalester 0
Video Box Score
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Springfield 42, WPI 10
Video Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Cornell 55, Beloit 36
Video
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Hartwick 24, St. John Fisher 21
Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-La Crosse 41, Carroll 6
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at St. Scholastica 37, Minnesota-Morris 3
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at George Fox 44, UW-Eau Claire 0
Video Box Score
Final
at Western Connecticut 37, Salve Regina 23
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at UW-Stevens Point 41, Adrian 28
Video Box Score
Final - OT
at Wesleyan 24, Tufts 17
Video Preview Box Score
Final
at Averett 35, Methodist 6
Video Box Score
Final
at Berry 28, Centre 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Grove City 24, St. Vincent 14
Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Carthage 55, at Augustana 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Chicago 28, at Illinois College 7
Video Box Score
Final
at Sul Ross State 35, McMurry 7
Final - OT
at Wilmington 37, Capital 30
Video Preview Box Score Photos
Final
Lake Forest 42, at Lawrence 26
Video Video Box Score
Final
at East Texas Baptist 79, Belhaven 40
Box Score Recap
Final
Arizona Christian 56, at Whittier 38
Video Box Score
Sep. 28: All times Eastern
6:30 PM
Shenandoah at Randolph-Macon
Video Preview Live stats Audio
Sep. 23: All times Eastern
Final
at Delaware Valley 27, Stevenson 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Wesley 66, at William Paterson 0
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Alfred 45, Rochester 7
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
Johns Hopkins 41, at Dickinson 10
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Frostburg State 24, at Rowan 10
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at Heidelberg 47, John Carroll 21
Video Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Mount Union 55, Baldwin Wallace 7
Video Box Score Photos
Final
Wittenberg 48, at Kenyon 11
Video Box Score
Final
at Wabash 25, Hiram 21
Video Video Box Score
Final
Hardin-Simmons 63, at Howard Payne 3
Box Score
Final
North Central (Ill.) 51, at Millikin 21
Video Box Score Recap
Final
Wheaton (Ill.) 40, at Elmhurst 15
Video Box Score Recap Recap
Final
at St. Thomas 20, St. John's 17
@ Target Field, Minneapolis
Box Score Recap Photos
Final
at Brockport 28, Utica 14
Video Box Score Recap
Final
at Case Western Reserve 56, Waynesburg 21
Video Box Score
Final
at Illinois Wesleyan 18, North Park 0
Video
Final
at UW-Platteville 56, Lakeland 22
Video Box Score Photos
Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 50, Texas Lutheran 7
Video Box Score Recap