Wheaton, Ill. - The ninth-ranked Wheaton Thunder football team earned a hard-fought, 35-21 victory at home against fifth-ranked North Central on Saturday afternoon in front Wheaton's Homecoming crowd at McCully Stadium. The much-anticipated battle of top-10 teams played out true to form as the two teams battled back-and-forth for the entire game. Today's win marks the third-consecutive year that Wheaton has defeated North in the "Battle for the Little Brass Bell", the trophy that is annually on the line when the two programs meet in the regular season. Wheaton has at least one victory against North Central in each of the past six seasons, dating back to 2014.
Wheaton put up 447 yards of total offense, with 351 passing yards and 96 rushing yards. North Central, the No. 1 ranked unit in total offense in Division III, had 398 yards of offense, with 313 passing yards and 85 rushing yards.
Luke Anthony passed for 351 yards, with 21 completions on 30 attempts. Anthony threw for all five of Wheaton's touchdowns. Phillip Nichols caught 10 passes for 207 yards, with three touchdown catches. Running back T.J. Williams ran for 94 yards on 23 carries, and he caught six passes for 40 yards with one touchdown reception. Adam Terrini recorded four receptions for 97 yards, with one touchdown catch.
Ryan Schwartz recorded 11 tackles, including nine solo stops. Daniel Herber made 11 total tackles for the hosts. Caden Sigler had seven total tackles and Wyatt Lee tallied six total tackles, all solo stops.
Patrick O'Connell registered seven total tackles, including two quarterback sacks (-12 yards) as part of his three tackles for loss (-14 yards). Jake Holaday recorded two sacks (-11 yards) and Dallas McRae added two sacks in an impressive effort for the Wheaton defensive line. River Shindledecker made five total tackles, including one quarterback sack (-4 yards). The Wheaton defense had seven sacks in the game as part of its 10 tackles for loss.
North Central received the game's opening kickoff and impressively moved the ball down the field in an 11-play drive of 89 yards. The drive culminated with a one-yard touchdown run for Ethan Greenfield to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead with 10:14 remaining in the first quarter.
Wheaton responded early in the second quarter for its first touchdown as T.J. Williams scored on a three-yard touchdown pass from Anthony to tie the game at 7-7 with 12:13 remaining in the second quarter. T.J. Williams touchdown catch capped a 13-play of 80-yards. The key play in the Thunder scoring drive was a 28-yard pass from Anthony to Nichols that moved Wheaton from its own 33-yard line to Cardinals' 39-yard line. Three drives later, the Cardinals quickly struck for a touchdown as NCC quarterback Broc Rutter connected with Blake Williams on a 48-yard touchdown pass that gave the guests a 14-7 lead with 6:18 left in the first half. The Cardinals maintained the 14-7 lead at the halftime intermission.
Wheaton's opening drive of the second half stalled at the North Central 18-yard line with a failed field goal attempt. Wheaton's defense held the North Central offense in check on the ensuing drive to force a punt that allowed Wheaton to start its drive at its own 44-yard line. On the fifth play of the drive Anthony connected with Nichols for a 47-yard touchdown pass that tied the game at 14-14 with 7:53 remaining in the third quarter. North Central responded with a touchdown on the next drive of the game. The eight-play drive of 75 yards gave the Cardinals a 21-14 lead with 4:47 remaining in the third quarter. The drive culminated with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Rutter to Andrew Kamienski. The Cardinals' lead did not last for long as the Thunder responded with a seven-play touchdown drive of 72 yards to tie the game at 21-21 with 1:32 remaining in the third quarter. Anthony had passes of 37 and 26 yards in the drive and his five-yard touchdown pass to Nichols ended the drive. The Nichols touchdown was the second of four-consecutive Wheaton drives that ended in a touchdown pass.
The Wheaton defense pressured North Central on the Cardinals' drive that followed Nichols' second touchdown of the day. The guests' four-play drive included a four-yard sack by Shindledecker and an 11-yard sack by McRae. Wheaton began the ensuing drive at its own 42 yard and quickly struck with a 58-yard touchdown pass from Anthony to Nichols. Nichols' third touchdown of the game gave Wheaton its first lead of the game at 28-21 with 14:06 left in the fourth quarter.
The Thunder defense again stopped the Cardinals' drive that followed the touchdown. On the seventh play of the drive, Rutter connected with Kamienski on an eight-yard pass to setup fourth-and-three at the Wheaton 48-yard line. The Cardinal went for it on fourth down and Holaday sacked Rutter for a six-yard loss to give Wheaton the ball at the NCC 46-yard line. T.J. Williams had a reception of eight yards followed by a 13-yard rush to give the Thunder the ball at the North Central 35-yard line. T.J. Williams followed with runs of eight and seven yards, respectively. Anthony then connected with Terrini on a 21-yard touchdown pass to extend the hosts' lead to 35-21 with 6:40 remaining in the game.
North Central followed Terrini's touchdown with a lengthy 12-play drive that ended when Thunder defensive backs Corey Kennedy and Spencer Rowland stopped NCC receiver Blake Williams short of the first down on fourth-and-10 with 4:01 remaining in the game, essentially ensuring the Wheaton victory.
The Thunder travel to North Park next Saturday for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff in Chicago against the Vikings.