NAPERVILLE – For the third time in the last four tournaments, North Central and Wheaton will represent the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) in the Round of 16 of the NCAA Division III Playoffs after the Cardinals and Thunder produced first-round wins on Saturday afternoon.
North Central def. Belhaven, 65-0
The Cardinals engineered a 28-0 lead by scoring touchdowns on their first four possessions, setting the tone for their largest margin of victory in a postseason game in a 65-0 drubbing of Belhaven. The result was NCC’s 26th consecutive win.
The decision also marked NCC’s third-ever postseason shutout and its second-fewest yards allowed in the playoffs.
The Cardinals were relentless with their ground attack, rolling up 433 rushing yards from seven different players, including a game-high 141 yards on 15 rushes from All-CCIW First Team pick Joe Sacco. CCIW Art Keller Offensive Student-Athlete of the Year Luke Lehnen tacked on 221 yards of total offense and had a hand in four touchdowns.
The defense – led by seven tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss and a fumble recovery from Zack Orr – limited the Blazers to 125 yards on 51 plays, an average of 2.5 yards per snap. Belhaven managed just eight first downs.
The Cardinals will play Trinity (Texas) next Saturday with a bid to the quarterfinals at stake. The site is yet to be announced.
Wheaton def. Mount St. Joseph, 41-34
Mateo Jesch tied the game early in the fourth quarter with a 33-yard field goal and All-CCIW FIrst Teamer Giovanni Weeks added the go-ahead score on an 8-yard run with 7:59 to play to lift Wheaton to a 41-34 triumph over Mount St. Joseph at McCully Stadium.
Wheaton trailed on three different occasions and trailed by as many as 14 in the first half, part of a game that featured three tied scores and three lead changes.
The fourth-quarter touchdown was part of a huge effort for Weeks, who finished the contest with 256 rushing yards and four touchdowns. The Thunder finished the game with 564 yards of total offense, including 262 yards through the air from Ben Thorson.
Trailing by seven, MSJ had two chances to find a game-tying or go-ahead scoring drive, but a Gage Autry interception later followed by a turnover on downs ensured Wheaton’s spot in the second round. Johnny Eller, Lawson Haigler and Caleb McClung shared the team lead with six tackles apiece.
Wheaton will meet Wisconsin-Whitewater in the second round, the two programs’ first meeting since the Warhawks won a second-round playoffs matchup in 2015. The location for next Saturday’s contest has yet to be announced.
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The College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin (CCIW) was founded in 1946 and currently services nine member institutions including Augustana College (Rock Island, Ill.), Carroll University (Waukesha, Wis.), Carthage College (Kenosha, Wis.), Elmhurst University (Elmhurst, Ill.), Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, Ill.), Millikin University (Decatur, Ill.), North Central College (Naperville, Ill.), North Park University (Chicago, Ill.) and Wheaton College (Wheaton, Ill.).