Wheaton, Ill. - The #17-Wheaton College Thunder football team emerged with a dramatic 34-31 victory against #12-ranked North Central on Saturday night at McCully Stadium in the Battle for the Little Brass Bell. Wheaton earned the victory in tonight's tightly contested matchup on a 29-yard field goal by Thunder senior Sam Cote as time expired, breaking a 31-31 tie.
The Thunder offense totaled 464 yards tonight, with 236 passing yards and 228 rushing yards. Wheaton's effort was aided by an offensive line that was outstanding tonight as the unit help Wheaton control the line of scrimmage throughout the contest.
North Central recorded 399 yards of offense with 220 yards on the ground and 179 passing yards.
Sophomore quarterback Johnny Peltz completed 22 of his 28 passing attempts for 236 yards and two touchdown tosses. The sophomore also led the Thunder in rushing with 83 yards on 22 carries. Junior Keegan Kemp caught seven passes for 96 yards, with one touchdown. Kemp also averaged nine yards per carry as he rushed for 54 yards on six carries, with a nine-yard touchdown run. Luke Thorson caught four passes for 67 yards.
Adam Dansdill and Jordan Dornbush led the Thunder defense with eight total tackles apiece. Logan McRae and Mikey Swider each recorded seven total tackles with a tackle for lost yardage. Senior captains Mitch Warren and Jared Todd each made five total tackles and Todd tallied a quarterback sack of four yards.
North Central running back Oshayne Brown ran for 142 yards on 21 carries, with two touchdown runs. Quarterback Dylan Warden threw for 179 yards as he completed eight of his 15 passing attempts with two touchdown passes and an interception. Peter Mann led the Cardinals' defense with 13 tackles and Justin Stuursma recorded 10 total tackles.
North Central took an early 6-0 lead with 10:55 left in the first quarter as the Cardinals opened the game with a nine-play drive of 81 that culminated with a four-yard touchdown pass by Warden. The PAT that followed the Cardinals' touchdown was no good. Wheaton countered on its first drive of the game with a nine-play drive of 50 yards. Cote converted a 37-yard field goal to conclude the drive for a 6-3 lead for the Cardinals with 6:41 remaining in the first quarter.
On the Cardinals' next drive the guests methodically used 7:22 off the in a 13-play drive of 57 yards that concluded with a 22-yard field goal by Dom Zavaglia that gave the Cardinals a 9-3 lead. Wheaton responded with an impressive drive that featured strong passing plays. The Thunder had the ball at the North Central 38-yard line when Peltz connected with Thorson on a 30-yard reception to put the Thunder in the red zone. Peltz then responded with a 13-yard touchdown pass through the NCC defense to Kemp in the end zone to give the hosts a 10-9 lead with 11:30 remaining in the first half. The two teams continued trading scores in the first half when Brown scored on an eight-yard touchdown as the Cardinals regained the lead with a 16-10 advantage with 7:36 left in the second quarter.
Wheaton responded on the ensuing drive with a nine-yard touchdown run by Kemp with 3:21 remaining in the first half for a 17-16 Wheaton lead. Kemp's touchdown was set up two plays earlier on a 21-yard touchdown pass from Peltz to Kemp. The Wheaton defense stood strong in the ensuing drive to provide the first drive of the game that did not result in a score. The Cardinals had the ball at the NCC 31-yard line when Warden completed a 35-yard pass to Demarco Tillman to put the guests at the Wheaton 34-yard line with 58-seconds remaining in the first half. Warden reached Wheaton's 28-yard line on a six-yard run to give the Cardinals a second down with four yards to go. Todd, the Thunder defensive end, forced pressure on Warren to force an incomplete pass and setup third-and-four. Mikey Swider pushed through the NCC defense to tackle Warden on a loss of one yard, setting up fourth-and-five with 11-seconds remaining in the first half. A 46-yard field goal attempt by Zavaglia missed to allow Wheaton to maintain a 17-16 lead at the halftime intermission.
Wheaton took the third-quarter kickoff and patiently moved the ball down the field on the opening drive of the second half. The drive culminated with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Peltz to Matt Mitchell to increase Wheaton's lead to 24-16 with 8:51 remaining in the third quarter. On the second play of the ensuing NCC drive, Warden's pass was intercepted by Thunder defensive back Alex Mendez at the Wheaton 17-yard line. The Thunder capitalized on Mendez's interception with an eight-play drive of 15 yards that ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Danny Puknaitis to increase Wheaton's lead to 31-16 with 1:26 left in the third quarter.
North Central took advantage of its next possession, resulting in a three-yard touchdown run by Brown. Brown's touchdown cut Wheaton's lead to 31-24 with 11:23 remaining in the fourth quarter. The Thunder drive that followed Brown's touchdown was Wheaton's first drive result in a Thunder punt. North Central took advantage as Warden connected with Alex Ulmer on a 59-yard touchdown pass to cut Wheaton's lead to 31-29 with 4:53 remaining in the game. Warden reached the end zone on a two-point conversion that followed the touchdown to tie the game at 31-31.
The offense and the Thunder offensive line continued its impressive methodical play in the final drive of the game. The drive started at Wheaton's 32-yard line and on third-and-five Peltz hit Zach Lindquist with a 10-yard pass to keep the drive alive with 4:03 remaining in the game. Jesse Geary had a 12-yard run to put the ball in NCC territory at the 41-yard line with 3:17 left in the game.
On third-and-10 Kemp had a nine-yard reception that gave the Thunder a fourth-and-short at the NCC 32-yard line with 1:55 remaining in the game. The Thunder opted to attempt a fourth-down play and Peltz gained two yards to give Wheaton a key first-and-ten at the NCC 30-yard line. Wheaton continued to run the ball, getting the pigskin to the North Central 12-yard line. A timeout by each team with three seconds remaining set up Cote's 29-yard field goal attempt that made it through the uprights to give Wheaton is first win at home against North Central since 2006.