It was a second-round playoff game that felt like a title match — North Central College’s epic 59-52 upset over 13-time national champion Mount Union in 2019.
“It was the single greatest game I’ve been a part of,” said North Central head coach Jeff Thorne.
“After winning that game, it changed the program for forever,” said senior wide receiver Andrew Kamienski.
The Cardinals went on to win the program’s first Stagg Bowl, and after their chance to repeat was postponed a year because of Covid-19, they are two wins away from going back-to-back but first need to topple Mount Union again on the road in Saturday’s semifinal.
“They are great football team, but so are we,” Kamienski said. “We need to go in there and do our 1/11th as the coaches say and play Cardinal football.”
Kamienski believes part of the reason North Central excels on the field is their bond off it. Running back Terrence Hill learned that firsthand after losing his mom during his freshman year in 2018.
“In my room I was really isolating myself, and there were guys coming in to check on me, saying let’s go do something,” Hill said. “It really helped me out a lot, having those guys. You can’t ask for more from those guys.”
Hill’s mom Jessie had raised him and his sister by herself after his father passed away when Terrence was nine years old.
“Normally it’s the father’s job to teach his son how to shave, but my mom taught me how to shave,” Hill said. “In lot of ways she stepped up and went above and beyond.”
At North Central, the Effingham, Illinois native found surrogate parents in his coaches and new brothers in his teammates, returning the favor in their time of grief.
“DeAngelo hardy lost his mom the second day of camp and Terrence was there for DeAngelo to lean on,” Thorne said. “We had another young player 2 weeks ago his mom passed away suddenly, and Terrence is just a guy that people can go to.”
“He’s just a leader throughout, I look up to him,” Kamienski said. “He’s the first to text you, first person in the locker room to go to, he’s just an awesome guy.”
On the field, Hill and Ethan Greenfield form a dynamic 1-2 backfield punch, combining for 2300 yards and 39 touchdowns. And if the Cardinals do hit adversity Saturday, it’s nothing they can’t handle when they rely on each other.
“I would put up our bond against any other team in the country,” Kamienski said. “We are so close it’s truly one unit.”