WINNECONNE, Wis. -- Early calamity did not deter North Central (Ill.) in its quest for a 14th national title on Saturday at the Lake Breeze Golf Course, as the Cardinals rallied from an early setback to return to the top of the podium for the second time in three years.

For the second consecutive season the national title came down to a battle between North Central and Haverford. The Cardinals looked to be against the ropes early when Dan Kerley and Matt Brinkmeier both fell in the initial melee at the start, before regrouping for the blowout victory.

"It's really hard to put into words how proud I am of this team and how they have run the entire season and the growth that has taken place," North Central head coach Al Carius said.

"It was a battle out there. We wanted to get good position and then maintain that position throughout the race, but we had two of our top runners that went down shortly after the start. Kerley and Brinkmeier went down. They were almost last going around the first turn. So getting good position with some of our top runners really didn't happen as planned and that's what I think really makes today so special. They just kept battling back and back."

Complete Championship Results
Take a look here at the results from the 2011 NCAA championship.
Results

The Cardinals tallied 110 points in the standings while the runner-up Fords accumulated a team score of 172. Washington-St. Louis was third (206 points) with the SUNY-Geneseo (235 points) and host Wisconsin-Oshkosh (277) rounding out the top five.

Matt Perez paced the Cardinals, earning All-America accolades for the second consecutive season with a fifth place showing, completing the 8,000-meter course in 24 minutes, 15.17 seconds. Neal Klein was the second Cardinal to cross the tape, earning his third career All-America certificate, finishing in 15th (24:33.10).

"Perez and Klein are two young men you can really rally behind, and the rest of the team really filled in," Carius added.

Kerley regrouped from an early tumble to place 37th in a time of 24:50.56 while Kevin Sparks was 41st in 24:52.98. Kerley was sitting in 148th place after one mile of racing before gradually picking off runners, improving to 86th after two miles and 49th after three miles.

John Crain rounded out the scoring contingent, placing 48th in 24:56.66. Brinkmeier, who took a spill near the start, raced to a 49th place finish in 25:01.70 while Yonatan Mascote crossed the line with a time of 26:05.16.

"Coming into this race, we knew we had all of our teammates and alumni there supporting us,"  Perez said. "Even though we weren't packed up together, I knew in my mind we were all running for each other."

Ben Sathre of the St. Thomas (Minn.) claimed the individual national title, completing the race in 23:44.27.

North Central is the only institution to appear in all 39 NCAA Division III Men's Cross Country Championships and has finished among the top four on 35 of those occasions.