Written by News Bulletin News Sources
Wednesday, 18 December 2013 00:00
North Central had the reigning NCAA Division III heavyweight on the ropes Saturday but Mount Union punched back with a late touchdown and ended the Cardinals' banner year with a 41-40 win in the semifinals of the Division III Football Championship last Saturday in Alliance, Ohio.
Making history by simply taking the field at Mount Union Stadium, the Cardinals (13-1) came within inches of a win over the No. 1-ranked team in the nation and a program which has won 11 Division III national titles.
"We believe we can play with the best teams in the nation," said quarterback Spencer Stanek, the only North Central signal-caller to start a quarterfinal or semifinal playoff game. "We say that every week and that's our rallying cry in the offseason. It was great to get a chance to play a team like Mount Union, who's been at the top of the Division III level for so many years."
"To come out here and compete with them right up to the last minute of the game, it's just a great experience that we're never going to forget the rest of our lives."
In addition to its opponent, the Cardinals had to contend with a steady snowfall which lasted throughout the game and affected players on both teams' footing all afternoon.
The unsteady terrain allowed special-teams returners to elude pursuers and produce big plays, the first of which came on the opening kickoff. North Central's John Skokna weaved through the Raiders' coverage for a 58-yard return, setting the visitors up with a short field at the Mount Union 21-yard line.
Within five plays, North Central made the first of six trips to the end zone, as Stanek lofted a pass to Peter Sorenson on a fade pattern for a three-yard touchdown pass.
Mount Union tied the score at 7-7 just four plays later, however, as tailback B.J. Mitchell broke free for a 49-yard run on the first play and quarterback Kevin Burke capped off the drive with a 24-yard run after less than five minutes of play.
Randolph wound up factoring heavily into the Cardinals' plans after Kent left the game late in the first half due to an injury and did not return. Randolph gained 68 yards and scored three touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts, all of which were career highs.
North Central also had to play the second half without three-time All-Region left tackle Jace Werkheiser, injured in the second period and tried to return before sitting out the rest of the day.
Having focused most of its efforts on the running game throughout the second half, the Raiders took to the air on their final drive with devastating effect. Burke hit Nemeth for 20 yards and Luc Meacham for 19 before delivering a 26-yard TD pass to Mike Collichio wih 1:07 still on the clock and the 41-40 lead.
North Central was able to deny Mount Union's two-point conversion.
Stanek completed a pair of first-down passes to Sorenson before the Cardinals came up empty on four straight throws at the Mount Union 30-yard line to surrender possession.
--News Bulletin news sources
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 December 2013 10:52