Competing against the most foreboding weather conditions it has seen yet this season as well as a gritty opponent, the North Central College football team won its third straight contest on Saturday, departing Art Keller Field with a 26-14 victory.
The 15th-ranked Cardinals (6-1, 5-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) posted their 14th straight win over Carthage and their seventh consecutive victory on the Red Men's home field.
Stiff, swirling winds and a brief bout of snowfall provided difficulty for both teams moving the ball through the air on Saturday, resulting in 17 combined punts, but the Cardinals were still able to count on the passing of quarterback Broc Rutter. The junior completed 26 of 40 passes for 353 yards and helped North Central establish firm control with 17 unanswered points midway through the afternoon.
The Cardinals' first drive of the day came to an end on a failed fourth-down conversion at the Carthage three-yard line. North Central managed to put the first points of the game on the board just two plays later, however, as an errant Red Men snap from center was recovered in their own end zone for a safety. The teams punted the ball back and forth 11 times before the hosts managed to take the lead. Facing third down-and-11 from his own 48, Carthage quarterback Billy Dury connected with receiver Tommy Bazarek on a screen pass, and Bazarek raced to the end zone for a 52-yard score with just 1:49 before halftime.
Rutter made effective use of the time still on the clock, completing passes to Andrew Kamienski and Cameron Moorebefore firing the ball to Cory Hartema, who eluded the Carthage pursuit while sprinting down the right sideline for a 50-yard scoring pass with 44.8 seconds before the half. The score enabled the Cardinals to head into halftime with a 9-7 advantage.
North Central's opening possession of the second half began at its own 41 after the wind played a lead role in a four-yard Carthage punt. After a Red Men personal foul penalty on third-and-long kept the drive alive, Rutter scrambled to extend a play on second down at the Carthage 12, then lofted the ball to Michael Sfikas, who made a leaping grab in traffic for a touchdown and a 16-7 advantage. The Cardinals extended the lead to 19-7 late in the third period when Derik Judka kicked a 33-yard field goal, his ninth in as many attempts this season.
The Red Men (2-5, 2-4 CCIW) narrowed the margin to 19-14 on Dury's 24-yard TD pass to Bazarek with 10:35 to play. North Central kept its offense on the field facing fourth down-and-one on the ensuing drive, and Rutter delivered a strike to Matt Metz, who beat the Carthage coverage and made a 47-yard grab before eventually being wrestled down at the seven-yard line. Zane Lodico ran for a score from one yard out three plays later.
The Cardinals shut down Carthage's final two offensive drives, forcing a punt and getting an interception from Storm Simmons on the hosts' final play from scrimmage.
Kamienski was the Cardinals' top receiver, catching nine passes for 119 yards. Kamienski raised his career reception total to 105, making him the 10th player in program history to catch 100 passes. Moore caught seven passes for 51 yards, while Sfikas caught four for 39 yards and Hartema gained 72 yards on three catches. DJ Warkenthien led the North Central defense with nine tackles, including four tackles for loss, while Matt Sutherland finished with seven and Simmons added six.
North Central hosts Elmhurst College (1-6, 0-6) on Saturday. Kickoff at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium is set for 2:00 p.m.