In what wound up being the second victory of the weekend, the North Central College football team got the 2019 season started in grand style on Saturday, rolling to a big early lead and departing TowneBank Stadium with a 43-13 triumph over Christopher Newport University.
Getting to kickoff was the first hurdle for the fifth-ranked Cardinals, whose initial travel plans were upended by Hurricane Dorian. After a series of midweek adjustments, North Central was the storm on Saturday, scoring 27 of the game's first 34 points and achieving a season-opening win for the fifth straight year.
The Cardinals' offensive unit gained 508 total yards, spearheaded by quarterback Broc Rutter. The senior completed 27 of 36 passes for 369 yards, the fourth-highest total of his career and the ninth-highest in the program's history, while throwing for three touchdowns and running for another. Rutter pushed his career total to 92 TD passes, surpassing the previous North Central record of 91 set by Kam Kniss '07.
The defense, meanwhile, permitted the Captains to gain just 212 yards, only 130 of which came after a big play on the first CNU offensive series. The Cardinals forced three turnovers and recorded four quarterback sacks.
Rutter was a perfect 5 of 5 passing on the game's opening drive, the last of which resulted in a leaping 24-yard catch by Ethan Greenfield at the one-yard line. Greenfield covered the remaining distance on the ground on the next play, giving the Cardinals a 7-0 lead less than five minutes after play began. CNU managed to answer less than a minute later, tying the score on Jack Anderson's 78-yard screen pass to Garrison Mayo.
Greenfield jumpstarted the next North Central drive with a 30-yard gain, and Terrence Hill capped the possession off with a nine-yard touchdown grab from Rutter to give the visitors the lead for good at 14-7 with 7:01 on the first-quarter clock. The Cardinals' special-teams unit got on the scoreboard soon thereafter, as an errant snap on a CNU punt attempt was recovered in the end zone by Dakota Cremeens, boosting the lead to 21-7.
North Central forced a turnover on downs near midfield at the end of the first period and struck quickly to start the second, as Rutter lofted a deep pass down the middle to Blake Williams for a 48-yard touchdown pass and a 27-7 lead. CNU capped the first-half scoring with a 48-yard field goal by Dylan Curran, leaving the score at 27-10 at halftime.
Jake Beesley ended the Captains' first drive of the third quarter with an interception at the 50-yard line. Seven plays later, on fourth down-and-13, Rutter connected with Tyler Egan on a 31-yard scoring pass to boost the North Central advantage to 34-10. Kicker Magnus Meyer connected on a 23-yard field goal near the end of the third quarter, giving the guests a 37-10 edge heading into the final period.
Curran closed out the final CNU scoring drive with a 41-yard field goal with 12:25 on the clock. Rutter, after converting a third-and-long opportunity with a 28-yard completion to Williams, scored the game's final touchdown on an eight-yard run, keeping the ball on a read-option play with 7:09 remaining.
Beesley, Ben Wong and Storm Simmons shared game-high honors with six tackles apiece, while defensive tackle Isiah Ziegler also contributed a 10-yard interception return. Wong, Ziegler, Tommy Hyland and Cameron Martin each registered quarterback sacks. The Captains gained just 10 rushing yards on the afternoon, marking the 10th-lowest single-game total a North Central opponent has gained.
Andrew Kamienski caught a game-high nine passes for 103 yards and Williams enjoyed a breakout performance with 102 yards on five grabs. Greenfield gained a team-best 97 rushing yards on 13 carries.
The Cardinals have a week off before opening College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) play at Washington University in St. Louis on Saturday, Sept. 21. Kickoff at Francis Field is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.