NAPERVILLE — With an opportunity to make a huge statement, the Augustana football team suffered an all too familiar fate against North Central on Saturday.
The ninth-ranked Cardinals shot out of the gates with two quick scoring drives and then shook off a brief Augie surge to roll to a 42-14 CCIW victory at a sunny, chilly, wind-swept Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
The senior-laden Vikings were coming off their first victory over Millikin in their careers and were looking to end a 13-game losing streak to North Central. However, the nationally ninth-ranked Cardinals showed their strength and ability to bounce back from their first loss of the season last weekend to now fifth-ranked Wheaton.
The loss dropped Augie to 3-2, 2-2 in the CCIW ahead of next week's home game with North Park.
“My job is to get them ready for the physicality and speed of the game and we weren't ready for that,” said Augie coach Steve Bell. “They hit faster and more physically than we did.”
Thinking they had a good chance to give the Cardinals a run, that start surprised the Viking boss.
“We've got so many older kids and have so many snaps under out belts that shouldn't have been a surprise,” said Bell of his team being caught flat-footed early. “We've seen that team three times prior and they had some success early and we didn't, and it snowballed faster than we thought it would. We couldn't make enough plays to get out of it.”
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The Cardinals (4-1, 3-1 CCIW) were stout on both sides of the ball — especially so on offense in the first half when they had 337 yards in 51 plays. Conversely, Augie ran just 29 plays for 84 yards — almost half of that coming on a 39-yard scoring strike.
The Cardinals scored three rushing touchdowns — all by Ethan Greenfield (2, 2 and 3 yards). Senior quarterback Broc Rutter hit junior wide receiver Andrew Kamiensky for the other NCC scores on plays of 30, 32 and 6 yards.
North Central wasted little time attempting to take control of the game. The Cardinals took the opening kickoff 81 yards in eight plays. After forcing a quick Augie three-and-out, the hosts got the ball back on a punt and drove 65 yards in nine plays for a 14-0 lead at the 6:51 mark of the first.
Going for the early knockout punch, the Cardinals pulled off a successful onsides kick, but the Vikings defense righted the ship and got a stop. The teams traded punts, with Augie winning the field position battle and taking over at the NCC 42.
After a 3-yard run by Bobby Jarosz (19 carries, 67 yards), fifth-year senior quarterback Zach Fuller dropped a dime to senior wideout Tom Dolis in the end zone for a 39-yard scoring strike. Owen Ennis' PAT kick cut the margin to 14-7 with 57-seconds left in the first quarter, and it looked like the Vikings might have found a way to stay in the game.
However, North Central took advantage of a bad Augie snap that resulted in a giveaway at the Viking 2 after being pinned by a punt.
“That really was a huge momentum shift,” said Bell. “That's a tough scenario pinned down there. … It was a bad snap. Especially where we're at, you're just basically handing them a touchdown.”
Greenfield scored on the first play after that recovery, and that was followed by scores on the hosts' next two drives and a 35-6 halftime lead.
NCC added a third-quarter score and the Vikings closed the scoring when former Rock Island standout Alek Jacobs led a six-play, 53-yard drive that he capped with a 15-yard TD run with 4:18 left in the game.