CHICAGO — It's not very often an offensive lineman gets much attention during a football game unless he is flagged for a penalty.
On Saturday, the big boys for the Augustana Vikings earned plenty of recognition in a 41-7 CCIW victory over hosting North Park at a chilly Holmgren Athletic Complex.
Thanks to the offensive line, Augie controlled the contest from start to finish and was able to overcome a couple of turnovers in the process. Behind a line comprised mostly of juniors Chaz Williams, Tommy Simon, Matt McKay, James Cousin and sophomores Hunter Menke (Davenport Central HS) and Walker Whalen, the Vikings ran up impressive numbers. Augie (3-3, 2-3 CCIW) had a season-high 537 yards offense in 80 plays with a season-high 394 yards rushing on a whopping 55 carries.
“You have to tip your hat to the whole Augustana team and coaching staff,” said NPU coach Mike Conway, who fielded a depleted lineup he said was missing 21 players out with season-ending injuries. “They all performed very well and were well prepared. They out-played us in every facet of the game. … They played great and ran it down our throats.”
Leading that charge was Geneseo's Ryan Pitra who finished with a season-high 226 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. He had plenty of support as Rock Island's Alek Jacobs added 89 yards in just nine carries, Bobby Jarosz had 52 yards in seven carries and Antonio Cannon added 30 yards in six carries. Taking out one Zach Fuller sack for 14 yards, Augie averaged 7.4 yards per carry.
Jarosz added two TD runs and Cannon finished Augie's scoring in the fourth when the visiting Vikings put up three scores — one by each running back — to ice the game. The hosting Vikings then connected on a 50-yard passing TD with 1:51 left against Augie reserves to prevent a second consecutive shutout loss.
“They really did an amazing job on all fronts,” said Pitra of the offensive line.
Jacobs set the tone on Augie's the first play of the game, taking a snap out of the Wildcat formation and bursting off a 52-yard run to open that scoring drive.
Augie coach Steve Bell said the game featured a lot of cat-and-mouse intrigue trying to figure out what NPU was going to do on both sides of the ball.
“We could have been really frustrated offensively going into halftime, but I think our kids handled it well,” said Bell, whose club led just 14-0 at intermission after 236 yards offense and all four of its punts. “We took the first series of the second half to figure out what they were going to do that they hadn't done.”
After being stopped on downs in NPU territory to open the second half, Augie scored on four straight possessions to take control.
“Both sides of the ball handled it well and we were able to run the ball which was huge,” said Bell.
Augie's defense was just as stout, only allowing NPU (1-5, 0-5 CCIW) 183 yards until that 75-yard scoring drive on the host's final possession.
The defense was again led by junior Luke Sawicki who amassed a game-high 12 tackles, which included nine solo stops. Sophomore John Kappel and junior J.J. Cervino had interceptions that offset two fumbles – one on a short punt that bounced off an Augie helmet.
“Defensively,” said Bell, “we played well the whole game.”