Wheaton College gave its all to retain the Little Brass Bell during Saturday night's College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin clash against unbeaten North Central and extend its own 27-game regular-season winning streak.
North Central decided it was time for the bell to undergo a change hands though and for the Thunder to finally come up on the unfortunate side of things.
It wasn't easy, but the Cardinals held off an impressive rally by the Thunder to defeat Wheaton College 35-25 in Naperville.
"I knew it was going to be a battle and they're as good as anybody that we've played against," North Central coach Jeff Thorne said. "They did a great job in halftime of disguising coverage and going with whatever they had to slow us down and they did a good job of that."
North Central (6-0) led 24-3 at halftime, getting a huge momentum-shifter heading into the break on a 67-yard punt return touchdown from Pat Cravens in the final seconds of the first half.
Many teams could go into the break devastated by such a play, but Wheaton College seemingly was unfazed by the turn of events, which it displayed via stellar productivity in the third quarter.
The Thunder got a safety on a bad snap and added a touchdown run from Sola Olateju in the third quarter to cut its deficit in half at 24-12.
They made it all the more interesting at 24-18 after Luke Van Dyke caught a 5-yard pass from Jaelin Goldsmith early in the fourth quarter, but that also seemed to spark the Cardinals.
North Central received a 15-yard touchdown pass from Broc Rutter to Dylan Warden with 8:41 left in the fourth quarter and added the 2-point conversion to extend its lead to 32-18.
"We stayed away from what we were doing in the first half which put us in a tough spot," said Rutter, a Neuqua Valley graduate and Indiana State transfer. "I've got to give (Wheaton) credit. They fought back, but we responded, which was amazing to see. You always know you're on a good team if you can respond like that."
It was a huge touchdown as Wheaton College (6-1) responded shortly thereafter with a touchdown of its own, a 56-yard strike from Andrew Bowers to Trey Hanley to make it a 32-25 game.
A 25-yard field goal from Liam Crotty gave the Cardinals some breathing room with 5:48 left, and their defense sealed the fate of the Thunder.
"We beat a phenomenal football team and program," Thorne said. "I cannot be more pleased with this group of guys. We had no turnovers, which is something we take pride in and we beat a team that's great on offense and defense, all around. I couldn't be more pleased."