Taking control with a second-quarter scoring binge for the second straight week, the North Central College football team remained unbeaten in 2017 on Saturday with a 43-24 conquest of the Washington University in St. Louis Bears at Francis Field.
The fourth-ranked Cardinals (4-0) negated an early 10-0 deficit with 29 unanswered second-quarter points, topping the 500-yard mark on offense for the second time while also recording five quarterback sacks and three interceptions on defense.
Washington, which had not scored any points in the first quarter prior to Saturday's contest, jumped on top early after stopping the Cardinals' opening drive on fourth down. Bears quarterback Johnny Davidson capped off a six-play, 63-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass to running back John Fisher, giving the hosts a 7-0 advantage with 8:22 left in the opening quarter. Washington's defense forced a punt, and the Bears added a 46-yard field goal off the foot of Dan Kalvaitis.
A 17-yard run by Austin Breunig and a 19-yard pass from Broc Rutter to Andrew Kamienski jumpstarted what would become North Central's first scoring drive, and Dominick Muoghalu delivered a three-yard touchdown run on the opening play of the second period. The score wound up being the first of five straight Cardinal possessions to result in points, as the visitors took the lead on the following drive as Rutter hit Joshua Ruiz for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Cardinal safety Pat Cravens, the reigning College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) Defensive Player of the Week, intercepted a pass near midfield on the next series and the resulting return left North Central only 14 yards from the goal line. Wideout Jalen Dennis took the snap from center on the next play and raced around the left side to the end zone. After forcing a punt, the Cardinals embarked on their longest drive of the day, an 81-yard, 11-play trek which culminated in Muoghalu's one-yard TD run, and Liam Crotty tacked on a 34-yard field goal, his eighth of the season, just before time ran out to send the guests into halftime with a 29-10 advantage.
North Central's lone scoring drive in the third period came after the Bears were stopped on fourth down in Cardinal territory. Rutter took to the air on the first play of the possession and found Jake Beesley for a leaping 41-yard grab, then went back to Beesley on a slant pattern three plays later for a 10-yard score. The Cardinals' final scoring drive of the afternoon once again featured Muoghalu, who closed out a seven-play, 67-yard series with a 13-yard TD run. Muoghalu now has eight rushing touchdowns in the season's first four games.
The Cardinals totaled 501 yards of offense (290 passing, 211 rushing), totaled 28 first downs and maintained possession for more than 38 minutes of the 60-minute contest. Rutter completed 20 of 29 passes for 290 yards, finding Ruiz five times (48 yards) and Andrew Kamienski (76 yards) and Cory Hartema (59 yards) four times each. Austin Breunig gained 118 rushing yards on 21 carries and Muoghalu gained 73 yards on 16 attempts.
Tommy Sora paced North Central's defense with nine tackles, while DJ Warkenthien made eight stops including two tackles for loss. Josh Leonhard recorded two quarterback sacks and Zach Greenberg and Tyler Holl also intercepted passes. The Cardinals limited Washington to seven total yards of offense during the decisive second period.
Breunig moved into fourth place in North Central history in career rushing yards (2,407) during the game, while Rutter moved into fourth place in passing yards (4,344).
The Cardinals return home to host North Park University (1-4) on Saturday. The Vikings are coming off a 30-15 loss to Millikin University. Kickoff at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.