NCAA Division-III Playoffs: North Central vs. Rose-Hulman
The No. 4 North Central Cardinals welcome the Rose-Hulman Fighting Engineers on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division-III football playoffs. North Central won the Collegiate Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW), posting a 10-0 record which included an 8-0 record in the conference. Rose-Hulman won the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC), going 8-2 with a 7-1 record in the conference.
How They Got Here:
North Central ran the table this season, scoring at least 34-points in every game that they played in 2016. They dominated their non-conference games, before defeating all of their division foes, including downing fellow playoff participant Wheaton, 35-25. What was most impressive was the closest margin of victory was 10, as they gave little hope to opponents that they had a chance against the Cardinals.
The Fighting Engineers lost their first game of the season in a close 14-13 tilt with Illinois College, then went on a four-game winning streak. They lost to Mount St. Joseph on October 8, but defeated Franklin 23-22 on the road on October 22 to give them the tiebreaker for the HCAC title. Their season ended with a thrashing of Earlham, 74-6.
North Central 41.6 PPG, 139.7 Rushing/Game, 282.2 Passing/Game, 421.9 Yards/Game
Rose-Hulman 34.7 PPG, 176.9 Rushing/Game, 247.6 Passing/Game, 424.5 Yards/Game
North Central 16.1 PPG, 81.1 Rushing/Game, 204.4 Passing/Game, 285.5 Yards/Game
Rose-Hulman 16.7 PPG, 119.9 Rushing/Game, 213.3 Passing/Game, 333.2. Yards/Game
Players to Watch
The North Central Cardinals are led by their impressive quarterback, Broc Rutter. He threw for 2,716-yards and 34-touchdowns, with just 4-interceptions and an impressive 66.8 completion percentage. His favorite receiver is Alex Ulmer, who made 58-catches for 902-yards, but Ryan Kuhl led the team with 10-TDs to go along with 630-yards receiving and 45-catches. Dylan Warden and Austin Breunig each had 29-catches. Breunig led the team with 619-yards rushing and was tied with three others for team lead in touchdowns with four.
On defense, Pat Cravens and Justin Stuursma each had 51-tackles, with Stuursma adding 4.5-sacks and Cravens intercepting four passes. This is a team that gets after the quarterback, as Billy Douds had 10.5-sacks, Derrek Warkenthien 8, and Tom Sora 7. Jeremy Niklos had 5-picks.
Rose-Hulman is led by their senior quarterback, Austin Swenson, who threw for 2,328-yards and 24-touchdowns. The senior completed a solid 60.4 percent of his passes and threw only 7-picks. Alec Fisher has been his top target this season, making 53-receptions for 626-yards and 8-TDs. Tight End Michael Iacono is Swenson’s safety net, catching 45-passes for 447-yards and 5-touchdowns. Stanley Hogan led the team in rushing with 733-yards and 5-touchdowns, and Kevin Dufauchard helps to provide a great 1-2 punch with 542-yards and 7-scores.
On defense, sophomore safety John Kirby made 61-tackles to lead the team and added 2-interceptions. Nate Jackson was first in sacks with 5, and Kevin Nowak led the team with 5-interceptions.
A lot of good things are going on at Rose-Hulman, but North Central is just too tough. They have proven to be a top five team. Both teams have solid defenses but the Cardinals have one of the elite groups in the country, especially in their ability to attack the quarterback. This will be a close one early, but North Central will be in complete control by the third quarter, 48-21.
By Robert Pannier