Redlands stuns No. 4 North Central 35-29

There are wins. Then there are big wins.  For the University of Redlands they don’t get any bigger than the 35-29 win over North Central (Ill.) Saturday in front of 2,170 spectators at The Runner. Coach Mike Maynard says it is the highest ranked opponent the Bulldogs have ever beaten.

The ramifications are many. First, the West Coast gets little respect when it comes to Division III football and the SCIAC is particularly looked down upon. Well the Bulldogs just struck a blow for both.

The victory is huge for the Bulldogs in terms of stength of schedule, a big factor when it comes to the playoff draw. Last year the Bulldogs went 8-1, the lone loss to nationally ranked Cal Lutheran by two points with a last-second field goal blocked and it wasn’t good enough for an at-large bid. This win helps their cause should they finish second again.

It will likely boost the Bulldogs into the national rankings since they were already in the “receiving votes” category.

No player came up bigger than junior QB Chad Hurst who was making his first collegiate start. You would have never known. The game featured five lead changes in the last 16 minutes and Hurst brought his team back time and time again like a poised veteran. He ended up throwing for 275 yards, running for TD’s and passing for two. He did have three interceptions but chalk them up to inexperience.

Other relative newbies came up big too. Mark Richardson had 103 yards in receptions. Kicker Kevin Grady was stellar too.

The Cardinals left a lot of points on the table, something you can’t do against a good team. They had three red zone possessions in which they managed just six points – They got inside the 10 twice and settled for field goals. They got a pic in the closing seconds of the first half and got to the 17, then missed a field goal as the half ended.

The key came early as the visitors led 13-0, scoring and moving at will on their first three possessions. Then a punt pinned the Bulldogs at their own 3. Give the ball right back and the Cardinals have a short field, probably score again and its 20-0.

Instead Hurst drove the team 97 yards for a touchdown, 13-7 and Redlands was back in it, now confident it can play with North Central, who went 12-1 a year ago the lone loss coming to the eventual national champion in the playoffs.

I like the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Jim Good. I like the poise with which Hurst played. And I liked the intensity of the defense led by Justin Butler, Josh Herrera, and especially Jordan Garcia.

It is probably the best college football game I have covered in seven years. The atmosphere was electric and that was even though the students aren’t back yet.