HAWL IN: North Central College’s historic late fall of football
NAPERVILLE – In the general vicinity of the Chicago area there are still a few teams left playing football as the weather continues to get colder and colder.
The Bears are trying to rescue their topsy-turvy 2019 season with three games left, needing to win them all to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. Venturing out a bit, Illinois is in their first postseason game in five years as they head to Santa Clara for the Red Box Bowl against California. A year removed from a College Football Playoff appearance, Notre Dame heads to the Camping World Bowl in Orlando against Iowa State.
When it comes to championships, the Fighting Illini and the Fighting Irish are out of the running. As for the Bears, the odds are stacked against them since they’ll need help from other teams even if they win out.
But in Naperville, there is a team that right now is in the thick of a race for a championship, making their own history with every win over the last month.
North Central College’s football squad has advanced to the NCAA Division III semifinals for just the second time in the history of the program. They’ll be on the road at Muhlenberg (Pennsylvania) on Saturday afternoon at 11 AM central time in hopes of advancing to their first national championship game.
Head coach Jeff Thorne’s team has won three playoff games, including one upset that caught the attention of many in the sport. In the second round, they knocked off perennial Division III power and second-ranked Mount Union 59-52, which was the earliest the Purple Raiders had been knocked out of the playoffs since the 1994 season.
Ironically, it was Mount Union that defeated North Central in their only other Division III National Semifinal game in 2013. The Cardinals knocked off Wabash in the first round before that victory and then beat ninth-ranked Delaware Valley in the quarterfinals to advance to the “Final Four.”
In most of these games, like they’ve done all season, North Central has used an elite offense to propel themselves to victory. In seven of their 12 victories this season, they eclipsed the 50-point mark and reached 40 points in four other contests.
Naturally, North Central’s statistics sit near the top of Division III as they rank second in scoring (53.2 points per game), total offense (565.2 yards per game), setting six program records along the way.
Quarterback Broc Rutter, a Naperville native, and a finalist for the Gagliardi Trophy (Division III Player of the Year) leads the charge as he is second in the nation in four categories, including passing yards (4,135) and passing touchdowns (49). He’s also taken on the punting duties during the playoffs, with a 52.5 yard-per-punt average in the last two games.
Receiver Andrew Kamienski is first in the country in receiving yards and second in receptions, and his 26 receiving touchdowns in a season tied the Division III single-season record. Running back Ethan Greenfield has a division-leading 29 total scores and 2,207 all-purpose yards while ranking second in rushing yards.
A win on Saturday, and it’s off to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl on December 20th in Shenandoah, Texas to face either St. John’s of Minnesota or Wisconsin-Whitewater. Either way, it gives the Chicago area another football team to root for as 2019 comes to an end.