On its previous trip to Millikin University in 2015, the North Central College football team needed a 35-point fourth quarter to post a victory over the Big Blue. This time around, the Cardinals put together a 34-point outburst in the second period to set all drama aside, going on to post a 51-21 triumph at Frank M. Lindsay Field.
North Central (3-0, 2-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) gained a season-high 523 yards of total offense, scored its first defensive touchdown of the season and once again got a series of impactful special-teams plays as it secured a 13th straight victory over the Big Blue.
The Cardinals opened the scoring on their second offensive drive, using a 36-yard pass completion from Broc Rutter to Jake Beesley to cover the bulk of the 61-yard drive. Dominick Muoghalu crossed the goal line from a yard away with 8:30 still to play in the first period. After stopping a pair of Millikin possessions on fourth down, North Central scored in similar fashion. Rutter completed a 17-yard pass to Joshua Ruiz, again putting the Cardinals on the doorstep before Muoghalu scored on another one-yard run with 13:31 on the second-quarter clock.
Midway through the second period, the Cardinals forced a punt deep in Millikin territory. Andrew Kamienski fielded the kick at his own 36-yard line, then ran his first punt-return attempt of the campaign 60 yards to the Big Blue four-yard line. Muoghalu answered the call once again, scoring his third rushing TD of the afternoon and fifth of the season on the next play, leaving the visitors with a 21-0 edge with 6:58 left in the first half. Cardinal safety Pat Cravens ended Millikin's next drive with an interception at the Big Blue 43, and Rutter hit Kamienski for a diving 29-yard grab before calling his own number for a four-yard touchdown run.
Again buried deep in its own territory following a penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Millikin saw its next drive ended with an interception as well, only this time it was at the hands of defensive end Josh Leonhard, who snatched the ball out of the air at the two-yard line and drove over the goal line with 2:18 left in the half. The Big Blue did bounce back on its next drive to score its lone touchdown of the half on Nicco Stepina's four-yard scoring pass to Colton Kelsey, which came after Stepina jumpstarted the offense with a 42-yard completion to Jordan Smith.
The Cardinals took possession with 1:04 on the clock, which turned out to be just enough time to put another score on the board. Rutter connected with Austin Breunig out of the backfield for completions of 35 and 20 yards before finding Ruiz for a 13-yard score, Ruiz's first collegiate touchdown, with just 14 seconds before halftime.
Millikin (2-1, 0-1 CCIW) scored on its first two possessions of the second half, as Stepina threw touchdowns of seven and 20 yards to Gerald Perry, while the Cardinals added a 27-yard Liam Crotty field goal in between. The Big Blue ran only eight plays from scrimmage the rest of the way, as North Central went on an 11-play, 65-yard drive which ate up more than seven minutes and culminated in Rutter's eight-yard TD pass to Jalen Dennis, who also scored his first collegiate touchdown. The Cardinals then forced a punt and ran the final 7:06 off the clock with a series of nine running plays.
Rutter completed 21 of 31 passes for a season-high 309 yards, throwing to Kamienski (69 yards) and Breunig (61 yards) four times each. Breunig also gained a game-high 89 yards on 16 rushing attempts. Cravens led the Cardinals with 12 total tackles, while Matt Taylor and Talha Ayhan each recorded quarterback sacks and punter Zane Lodico unleashed a 72-yard attempt in the third period, matching the third-longest punt in school history.
Stepina was 25 of 44 passing for 264 yards and also led the Big Blue with 28 rushing yards on seven carries. He complete six passes to Smith for 115 yards and Daniel Jackson made a game-high 14 tackles.
The Cardinals hit the road again next week, traveling to face Washington University in St. Louis for a non-conference game. Kickoff at Francis Field is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.