North Central advances to national championship game
ALLENTOWN, Penn. -- Saturday's NCAA Division III football semifinal game at Muhlenberg College started inauspiciously enough for North Central College.
Quarterback Broc Rutter had his first pass deflected and intercepted. Two plays later, however, the Cardinals' Julian Bell intercept a Muhlenberg pass and returned it 33 yards to the Mules' 27.
On Wednesday back in Illinois, the 5-foot-7, 146-pound defensive back had fallen on the icy field during practice and wasn't certain to play as he propped himself on crutches.
On Saturday he felt adequate to start and took a tipped ball and hauled it in 1:29 into the game for early momentum.
That set up the first of four touchdown passes to Andrew Kamienski, who set the all-levels national record with 30 touchdown receptions in one season.
All afternoon in mist and drizzle, fifth-ranked North Central (12-1) had the answers, racing ahead 35-0 in a 45-14 rout over the fourth-ranked Mules (13-1). Muhlenberg had trailed in just one other game this season.
North Central will meet Wisconsin-Whitewater (12-1) in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl national championship Friday night in Shenandoah, Texas. Whitewater downed St. John's 35-32 in the other semifinal.
Muhlenberg's defense had allowed just 8 points in three playoff victories. On Saturday it yielded 21 after one quarter, all before their offense had registered a first down.
"I'm really, really pleased with the way our guys played today," said North Central coach Jeff Thorne. "In 2002 my father (John Thorne) took this program over and he had this dream, to win a national championship. He won state championships in high school (Wheaton Warrenville South) at the highest level in Illinois football. His friends all told him, 'What are you doing taking the North Central job? It's a graveyard. You can't win there."
Kamienski caught scoring passes of 2, 8, 5, and 19 yards -- all before halftime. He nearly scored a fifth touchdown but was ruled just shy of the end zone.
Kamienski (South Elgin) caught 11 balls for 112 yards, giving him 1,882 yards receiving on the season.
Most of his receptions came on out patterns from Rutter (Neuqua Valley).
Whether being defended by a man or forced to find the gaps in a zoned secondary, Kamienski seemed always wide open.
"(Kamienski) is just out of his break so fast," Muhlenberg coach Nate Milne said.
Six-foot-5 receiver Blake Williams caught just one ball, but it went for a 51-yard touchdown down the middle to give the visitors a 14-0 cushion.
The Cardinals' running game established control early, too, as Ethan Greenfield carried 21 times for 199 yards. Most of his bursts came right over center against a formidable front seven that had allowed just 998 yards rushing in 13 games.