Defense wins championships. North Central College coach John Thorne knows that, so he was thrilled with that aspect concerning the Cardinals’ 42-0 win Saturday over North Park in Chicago.
It was North Central’s first shutout since a 52-0 rout of Illinois Wesleyan on Oct. 27 of last season.
“Defensively, that was just a terrific effort, especially by the young guys,” Thorne said to Clark Teuscher, NCC’s Sports Information Director. “They never give up. North Park kept moving the ball and they made big plays to stop them.
“I know the starters from the defense really were excited and felt happy about it, because as a defensive player, you always want that shutout and there’s nothing the starters can do anymore except stand over the and cheer and encourage the guys.”
Nick Slezak led North Central (6-0, 3-0 CCIW) — ranked fourth among NCAA Division III schools — with 10 tackles. Richard Zirngibl and Cris Chacon each had six stops.
The Cardinals took complete control during the first half, scoring five touchdowns of at least 30 yards or more. Matt Randolph opened the scoring with a 35-yard run just over two minutes into the game. Peter Sorenson then caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Stanek and the road was paved.
Oshayne Brown followed with a 36-yard TD run on third down and Stanek struck for his sixth rushing TD of the season. Stanek’s 30-yard TD pass to tight end A.J. Thomas, also his sixth of the year, sent the Cardinals into halftime with a commanding 35-0 advantage.
“The thing I’m most proud of is we asked the guys to play with a lot of class,” Thorne said. “Help guys up, pat guys on the back, say nice things to them. I saw an awful lot of that happening so I’m really, really proud of that.
“We made more mistakes than we can afford to keep making. We certainly had a hard time running the ball on the inside, so I’m anxious to see the film on that. If we can get some of our injured linemen back, that’s going to help get that going.”
Stanek guided one more TD drive before leaving the game for good. His 73-yard pass to Ryne Rezac put the Cardinals in distance for Brown to score on a 6-yard run. The Cardinals rushed for 328 yards and average eight yards a play despite losing three fumbles and being flagged for 10 penalties.
“The offense dropping the ball on the ground is not something we’re looking for,” Thorne said. “But hopefully those guys learned something from that and they’ll do better next week.”
Still, Stanek completed 12-of-15 passes for 203 yards and two TDs. He also ran only three times for 39 yards. Brown led the ground game with 65 yards on six carries and Zach Pattat picked up 58 yards on 13 carries. Ryan Kent added 55 yards on five carries and Chad O’Kane snagged four passes for 47 yards.
The Cardinals’ defense got a big boost from a 14-yard tackle for loss by cornerback Kevin Nalefski on a 23-yard field goal attempt by North Park. The Vikings’ subsequent drive was squelched by the fumble recovery of Tyler Scott.
“They had some bad plays,” Thorne said of the defense. “But they had really good plays when we needed them the most.”