Playoff opener is kids play for North Central
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North Central College quarterback Spencer Stanek's first playoff game was quite the entrance.
Try 4 touchdown passes, 238 yards through the air and 34 yards rushing against St. Norbert College for the kid North Central coach John Thorne said "looks like a sixth-grader."
Oh, yeah, and that was just the first half. The No. 1 seed Cardinals scored on all six first-half possessions on the way to a 36-0 halftime lead and continued the trend by scoring on the first three second-half possessions in a 57-7 trouncing of the No. 8 seed Knights in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs Saturday afternoon at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium.
"Our kids had one of the best games we've had all season," Thorne said. "There was a lot of really good execution going on in all three phases offense, defense and special teams." Stanek connected on touchdown passes of 41, 3, and 37 yards in the first quarter and then sealed the deal with a 49-yard strike to Joe Antonacci with 11 seconds before half as the Cardinals (11-0) piled up 384 yards of first-half offense and 612 for the game.
"It was awesome to see the offense click like that," Stanek said. "Our O-line was doing awesome, we had huge running lanes and the passing lanes were there. We just had a great game plan going into the game and everything was there that we wanted."
Cardinals tight end Kyle Fiedorowicz opened the scoring, breaking two tackles on a seam route to score from 41-yard line. On North Central's second possession, the 6-foot-7 senior rumbled 45 yards on the same play, setting up Stanek's touchdown to tight end Jeff Grunwald.
"We've been looking for Kyle to run like that all season," Stanek said. "He can run over anyone he wants to, he's that big of a guy. I think (the first score) pumped our offense up and got us going."
Stanek hooked up with Manny Juarez for a 37-yard score after the wide receiver got behind the Knights' secondary. Jordan Tassio completed a Cardinals' scoring drive with a 1-yard plunge.
"This was the kind of game where for us to compete we needed to keep it a low-scoring game," St. Norbert coach Jim Purtill said. "And obviously we did not."
Nick Kukuc and Denzel Thompson scored on third-quarter runs, and Nick Hicks raced 45 yards on screen pass from Brad Crackel in the fourth quarter. St. Norbert (7-4) scored its only points on Rob Berger's quarterback keeper with 35 seconds left in the game. The Cardinals will take on No. 4 Ohio Northern (10-1) next Saturday in Naperville, hoping to keep the offensive outburst going and finally advance past the second round.
"We knew we were close from just clicking as an offense," Stanek said. "Like coach Thorne said, this game makes us realize how good we can be if we do our jobs. Hopefully, we can duplicate it next week."
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