Oct. 24, 2009

Courtesy of North Central

Oct. 24, 2009 - A balanced offensive effort and a rock-ribbed defense helped the North Central College football team repeat as Little Brass Bell owners for the first time in 27 years on Saturday, as the 13th-ranked Cardinals upended the third-ranked Wheaton College Thunder, 27-7, at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.

After trailing early, North Central piled up 27 unanswered points. The Cardinals put up 484 yards of total offense (246 rushing, 238 passing) while limiting Wheaton to 206 yards, just 56 of which came after halftime. North Central won its annual trophy game for the second straight year, marking the first time the Cardinals had retained the spoils of war since winning six straight games over Wheaton from 1977-82.

Both teams' offensive possessions met with futility until late in the first period, when Wheaton took possession at its own 24-yard line following a Cardinal punt. After a pass interference penalty on third down kept the drive alive, the Thunder marched to the North Central 11, and quarterback Sean Norris completed a touchdown pass to Seth Skogen with 11 seconds left in the quarter.

The Cardinals (6-1, 4-0 College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin) responded on their next drive, as Aaron Fanthorpe completed a 23-yard pass to Hank Johnston and a 17-yarder to Kyle Fiedorowicz on consecutive plays to move into Wheaton territory. Fanthorpe found Fiedorowicz for a 14-yard TD pass with 12:07 left in the second quarter, tying the contest at 7-7.

The score remained tied until midway through the third quarter. Taking over at his own 40 after a punt, Fanthorpe needed little time to estabilsh North Central's first lead, throwing a 44-yard pass to Nick Hicks, then hooking up with Steve Hlavac for a 17-yard scoring pass with 6:07 left in the period. Joe Antonacci's 28-yard return of a Wheaton punt on the Thunder's next drive set the Cardinals up just 34 yards from the end zone, and another two-play drive doubled the home team's advantage. Hicks was the recipient of Fanthorpe's third TD pass, scoring from 14 yards away to give North Central a commanding 21-7 lead with 3:28 left in the third quarter.

The Thunder (6-1, 3-1 CCIW) went three plays-and-out on their next possession as well, and North Central followed with a third straight score. Fanthorpe broke free for a 34-yard run to set up a first-and-goal situation for the Cardinals, then threw an eight-yard pass to Fiedorowicz for the tight end's second touchdown of the day.

A special-teams fumble recovery gave Wheaton its best scoring opportunity of the second half, as they needed just 34 yards to get to the goal line. The Cardinals' defense, however, stood tall and fended off the Thunder's advances, as Willie Hayes stopped Wheaton receiver Justin Zeller at the one-yard line on fourth down.

Fanthorpe finished the day 16 of 28 passing for 218 yards and four touchdowns, and he also ran 12 times for a team-high 88 yards. Hicks, taking several snaps out North Central's version of the Wildcat formation, ran for 69 yards on nine carries, and Pat Malek gained 66 yards on 11 rushing attempts. Hlavac was the Cardinals' top receiver with seven catches for 67 yards.

Josh McLeod finished with nine tackles and three pass breakups for the North Central defense, with Hayes making eight stops and Joe Schneiderbauer tallying seven. Kyle Haste and Patrick New each intercepted passes and the Cardinals kept Norris under pressure all afternoon, sacking the Wheaton signal-caller six times.

Norris went 12 for 27 passing for 111 yards and also led the Thunder in rushing with 56 yards on 15 carries. Brian Hollett and Ryan Hoyt each made nine tackles for Wheaton.

The Cardinals, who now have sole possession of first place in the CCIW standings, travel to Illinois Wesleyan University on Saturday. The Titans are 6-1 overall and 3-1 in the CCIW following a 20-7 victory over Elmhurst College. Kickoff at Wilder Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.