After a brief hiatus, the NCAA Division III football award is back at North Central College.
The world’s No. 1 Cardinals got off to a strong start, enduring a rally in the fourth quarter, defeating No. 2 Mount Union of Alliance (Ohio) 28-21 and stag at Navy and Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland. won the bowl.
It was North Central’s second NCAA D-III National title in the past four years. The Cardinals won his 2019 crown and lost in the Stag Bowl last season.
The Cardinals finished a perfect 15-0 season for rookie coach Brad Spencer.
“Unbelievable,” said Spencer. “I’m so proud of my staff and my players. As a first year coach, I just didn’t want to ruin that.”
In a meeting of North Central’s top-ranked offense against Mount Union’s top-ranked defense, it was the Cardinals who established early dominance, jumping out to a 14-0 lead at halftime before closing early in the fourth round. increased the cushion to 21-0. quarter.
But the Mount Union, one of the nation’s best passers and leading scorers, had two touchdowns in under six minutes in the fourth to cut the lead to 21-14 with 3:34 remaining.
North Central put the Cardinals up with sophomore quarterback Luke Lennen, a graduate of Chicago’s Glenwood High School, on a 3-yard touchdown pass, a graduate of Lakes High School in Lake Villas, with 1:24 to play. I reacted when I connected with my junior D’Angelo Hardy. 28-14.
The Purple Raiders then cut the score to the last margin of 28-21 with 30 seconds to play in regulation, but were unable to convert the ensuing onside kick. Lehnen’s kneeling time expired, sealing the national title.
The fact that North Central defeated 13-time champions Mount Union, 14-1, was something Spencer couldn’t overlook.
“We’re trying to be the best,” he said. “You have to beat the best players to get there. Beating Mount Union is a step in that direction.”
North Central, who entered the game averaging 553.4 total offense yards and 54.1 points per game, still racked up a total of 429 yards, well above Mount Union’s national-best total allowable average of 192.4 yards.
The Cardinals rushed for 233 yards (5.97 per carry), and Lakes High Schooler Ethan Greenfield had 119 yards on 25 carries and one TD. His outstanding four-year career at Naperville School saw him gain 6,679 yards.
Greenfield, who has run across the country in the past three seasons, was named winner of the prestigious Gagliardi Trophy, considered the premier Division III football individual award, on Friday.
Greenfield’s 3-yard run in the second quarter also gave North Central a new Division III single-season team rushing record of 5,188 yards.
Lehnen had 141 yards on four passes, three touchdowns, and 98 yards on 10 runs. Lehnen connected with Greenfield on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 11:32 left in the first quarter, and then attacked Hardy with a 94-yard strike with 6:18 to play in the second quarter, giving North Central a lead. We made it 14-0.
Hardy caught 3 passes for 107 yards, scored 2 points, and had 20 receiving TDs on the season. His TD of 94 yards is the longest in program history. Lehnen finished the season with 38 touchdown passes.
Entering the game, North Central’s defense allowed a Division III-best 5.6 points per game, limiting Mount Union to 60 rushing yards on 35 carries (minus 17 in the first half), eight tackles and three 5.6 points per game. Recorded a quarterback sack.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.