With just one final obstacle standing in the path of a season-long quest for a conference title, the North Central College football team used an overwhelming first-quarter surge to lay siege to Saturday's Senior Day game and wrap up the regular season with a 55-12 mastery of visiting Mllikin University at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
With the win, the Cardinals (9-1, 8-1 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) earned a share of the CCIW championship for the third consecutive season and the 14th time overall. North Central has clinched the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Football Championship, which will be the Cardinals' 11th appearance in the Division III postseason field of 32 teams.
North Central put its stamp on the contest with a run of 28 unanswered points in the first quarter, beginning on the game's first drive as Terrence Hill's one-yard touchdown run capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive. Ethan Greenfield followed with a 25-yard scoring run just over three minutes later. Broc Rutter opened the Cardinals' third offensive series with a 55-yard downfield completion to Andrew Kamienski, then found Dakota Cremeens in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown pass two plays later. Rutter jumpstarted North Central's next possession with a 37-yard pass to Cory Hartema, then connected with Andrew Kamienski for a two-yard TD toss.
Millikin (6-4, 5-4 CCIW) got on the board early in the second quarter, as receiver Jordan Smith made a leaping grab in the end zone to complete a 21-yard touchdown pass from Nicco Stepina. Rutter, however, responded by leading two more scoring drives before halftime. He scrambled for a three-yard touchdown run with 9:15 on the clock, then threw a nine-yard TD pass to Michael Sfikas for the final score of the half. The hosts carried a 42-6 edge into halftime.
Greenfield made his second trip to the end zone on the Cardinals' first drive of the second half, blowing through a series of would-be arm tackles en route to a 51-yard scoring run, his longest ground gain of the season. Derik Judka came on to kick a 20-yard field goal to close North Cenral's next possession, then knocked a 43-yarder stiff in the fourth quarter to raise his season total to 14 field goals this season, establishing new North Central and CCIW single-season records.
The Cardinals finished the game with an even 600 offensive yards, matching the 10th-highest single-game total in program history, and went without attempting a single punt for the second time in six weeks. Rutter completed 18 of 22 passes for 251 yards in just over a half of play, hitting Sfikas seven times for 73 yards and Kamienski six times for 104. Greenfield ran for 104 yards on just eight carries while Cole Griffin, seeing his first action at running back this season, gained 65 yards on a team-high 11 carries.
Storm Simmons led the North Central defense with seven tackles and two quarterback sacks, while Matt Sutherland and Zach Greenberg each made six stops. Greenberg recovered a fumble in the first quarter which was forced by Lane Brinkman, while Zach Butler thwarted a Millikin scoring opportunity with an interception in the end zone with 3:30 to play.
First-round pairings and competition sites for the Division III Football Championship will be announced Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Central time, during the selection show at ncaa.com. Subsequent coverage will follow at northcentralcardinals.com. First-round games will be played Saturday, Nov. 17 at noon local time.