After two straight weeks of sterling production on the offensive side of the football, the North Central College Cardinals saw their defensive unit step into the spotlight in Saturday's matchup against North Park University, yielding nothing to the Vikings all afternoon and departing the Holmgren Athletic Complex with a 35-0 victory.
The fifth-ranked Cardinals (3-0, 2-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) posted their first shutout since a 33-0 win over North Park last season, allowing only 129 total yards (just 32 of which came after halftime) and turned away two Viking opportunities in the red zone. North Park's yardage total is the fifth-lowest ever by a Cardinal opponent.
Neither team was able to put any points on the board in the first period, though the Cardinals' first scoring drive did begin midway through the opening quarter. After converting a trio of third downs in North Park territory, North Central quarterback Broc Rutter lofted a pass to the left corner of the end zone where Andrew Kamienski fought off a defender that was flagged for pass interference on the play for a five-yard touchdown catch. The reception completed a 21-play, 91-yard possession which consumed just under nine minutes of game time, marking the second straight week the Cardinals have had a touchdown drive of at least 90 yards.
After a fourth-down quarterback sack by Cameron Martin put an end to the Vikings' final first-half possession, North Central took over on its own 30 with 2:59 before halftime. Rutter completed a perfect 6 of 6 passes in a nine-play drive, finding Kamienski on a slant route for a 12-yard scoring pass and sending the visitors into the break with a 14-0 edge.
A fumbled kickoff return put the Cardinals in a difficult spot to start the second half, as North Park recovered the ball at the North Central 28-yard line. Five plays later, however, the Cardinals were in possession once again, as safety Matt Sutherlandmade a leaping interception of quarterback Grant Borsch's pass in the end zone. North Central freshman running back Ethan Greenfield was handed the ball seven times in the ensuing 14-play, 80-yard drive, scoring on a 10-yard run with 8:25 left in the third period to find the end zone for the third straight game. Greenfield played a lead role in the Cardinals' next possession as well, opening it with a 19-yard run and capping it off with a five-yard scoring run.
Dominick Muoghalu scored the game's final touchdown on a five-yard run with 6:31 to play, marking his fifth rushing score of the young campaign. After having its progress stalled by seven penalties in the first half, the Cardinals went the entire second half without having a flag thrown and finished the day with 438 total yards and a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
Greenfield finished the day with 145 rushing yards on 24 carries, while also catching four passes for 54 yards. Rutter completed 23 of 34 passes for 221 yards, hitting Kamienski seven times for 58 yards and Michael Sfikas four times for 56 yards.
The North Central defense, which totaled nine tackles for loss and three quarterback sacks, was led by Ben Wong's 11 total tackles. DJ Warkenthien made nine stops, three of which were for loss, while Isiah Ziegler recovered a fumble.
The Cardinals host 22nd-ranked Wheaton College on Saturday in the Battle for the Little Brass Bell. Kickoff at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is scheduled for 7:00 p.m.