Cardinals stunned in last minute of opener
By Brian Miller For Sun-Times Media September 4, 2011 9:32PM
Updated: October 18, 2011 2:22PM
REDLANDS, Calif. — As the final seconds ticked off the clock at University of Redlands’ Ted Runner Stadium, there weren’t enough fans to cover the field’s green grass, yet they stormed it all the same.
With just 1:34 remaining, the Bulldogs drove 78 yards for the game-winning score, stunning No. 4 North Central 35-29 in arguably Redlands’ biggest win in program history.
“The first half, we didn’t have any offense. North Central was able to convert a lot of first downs and we couldn’t,” Redlands coach Mike Maynard said. “We felt like if we could get a little bit of a run game going we could have a chance. We just had some real amazing opportunities and it just somehow seemed to be our night.
“They brought out the best in us — we haven’t played like this. It’s a credit to those guys and what they do and what a great football team they are. We were privileged to have played them and to be able to come out with a narrow victory is pretty special.”
For the Cardinals, it was a long flight back to Illinois after losing a 19-7 halftime lead, especially the way the defense had no answer in the second half for the deep slants that seemed to be the go-to option for Redlands’ offense even when in long yardage situations.
“They were just finding ways to pick us apart, and that’s not acceptable for this defense,” Cardinals defensive back Stewart Charles said. “We’re supposed to be able to compete against adversity. We expected to face adverse situations while we were here. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves right now. There were some times when we showed some life, but it just didn’t turn out our way.”
After Redlands (1-0) took its first lead of the game with 47 seconds left in the third quarter, North Central went three-and-out and it took a Joey Michals’ interception just to get the ball back.
Quarterback Brad Crackel (20-for-33, 213 yards) then led a 50-yard drive that ended in his six-yard touchdown pass to freshman Ryan Kent for a 26-21 lead with 9:34 left in the fourth quarter.
However, the Bulldogs answered with a long drive and 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Hurst to Taylor Irwin for a 28-26 lead. For Hurst, he threw three interceptions, but made his mark when he needed to, completing 26-of-45 passes for 275 yards and two crucial scores when his team needed him.
“I thought he played really well, especially in the second half,” Maynard said. “There are a lot of areas where he can improve, but I thought his cool and his composure made all the difference.”
Crackel drove the Cardinals again, but North Central (0-1) was stuffed on two straight plays inside the 5 and had to settle for Nick Dace’s third field goal for a 29-28 lead with 1:34 left.
North Central, third in the country in total defense last year, needed just one stop, but defensive penalties aided yet another long Bulldogs’ drive and Hurst’s 5-yard keeper with 28 seconds left proved to be the winning touchdown.
“Without seeing the film, I’m sure the officials were trying to do the best they could do,” NCC head coach John Thorne said. “We just have to work a lot harder on pass defense and the techniques that we’re using. We’ll look at the film and see, but it’s not the officials’ fault that we lost.”
The Cardinals started well, especially considering the start time of the West Coast game time in relation to their usual schedule.
Dace kicked a 35-yard field goal on the opening drive. Crackel hit tight end Kyle Fiedorowicz on the second drive for a 15-yard touchdown. Dace hit a 25-yard field on the team’s third drive at the start of the second quarter, and Jordan Tassio tacked on a 4-yard touchdown run later in the quarter.
“We couldn’t get any push and the quarterback was getting a lot of time,” Maynard said. “So the only adjustment we tried to make was to get a little more quarterback pressure and maintain the defensive perimeter.”
But mixed into that, the Cardinals missed opportunities in the red zone in the first half to put up some bigger points, including a missed extra point and Dace’s 33-yard field goal miss just before halftime.
“We really thought we were in good shape at halftime,” Thorne said. “We had a couple of key situations on special teams that hurt us. Going for it on fourth down (in the third quarter) and not getting it really hurt us, so that was one that’s on the head coach. The players are going to regroup and start playing a lot better football. There were lots of pass interference calls, and we’ve got to work on that.”
North Central’s first chance to bounce back will be Saturday at 6 p.m. while hosting Bethel University (Tenn.), which beat Wisconsin-Eau Claire 26-21 in its season opener.