Making the playoffs for the first time in program history was an impressive accomplishment for coach Tim Lester and his Elmhurst football team.
However, it wasn't enough for the Bluejays to be satisfied. Saturday, Elmhurst upset Coe College, winning 27-24 and moving on to the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
"They had only been in one close game all year," Lester said of Coe, "so we felt we had an advantage. Critical situations late in games are something we are accustomed to, we made a lot of big plays."
The Bluejays won the game the same way they have every other time this season, on the back of senior running back Scottie Williams.
Williams ran for 196 yards and a touchdown against Coe, numbers that have become more the norm throughout his career than a stand out. In a season that has been full of accolades and broken records, Williams is in the running for one more. Williams was among 10 finalists named Tuesday for the Gagliardi Trophy, given each year to the most outstanding Division III football player.
"It's a great achievement, but I haven't really had time to think about it," Williams said. "We have been extremely focused."
Williams and company have plenty to focus on. With little time to celebrate, Elmhurst is preparing for their second-round matchup with undefeated St. Thomas (Minn.).
Both teams play a similar style, Lester said. Each team will try to get their running game going early.
Lester said his plan is simple: play the Bluejays' style of football and take advantage of what they can. The focal point will once again be on Williams if the Bluejays are to succeed. Lester said he is confident in his running back can once again handle the load.
Most coaches wouldn't think traveling across the country for the first round of playoffs would be a good thing. That doesn't include North Cenral's John Thorne.
Thorne's football team had to travel farther than they ever had before for their game against California Lutheran, but it seemed to pay off when the Cardinals won 41-21.
"Well, I thought it was an absolute gift, it was the most marvelous thing that could have happened to us," Thorne said. "It was getting cold and nasty and rainy around here, so to have an opportunity to hop on a plane and get away and play in weather that was in the 60s, oh my gosh it was fantastic."
North Central dominated play throughout the game, led by quarterback Spencer Stanek, who scored 3 touchdowns through the air and 1 on the ground and Nick Kukuc, who had a career-high 250 yards on the ground.
The team's reward for winning is a second trip west to play 10-0 Linfield in Oregon this Saturday. Thorne said the biggest challenge will be containing Linfield's defensive line, a group that has had great success in the opponent's backfield. The athletic ability of Linfield isn't something the Cardinals are completely unused to, Thorne said.
"I think there are several situations where we have played teams that have similar type athletes and we can do a lot of the same things," Thorne said.
Cross country:For the 15th time in program history and the second time in a row the North Central men's cross country team has finished the season as national champions. A late charge propelled the Cardinals from fifth to first place in the overall rankings.
With a team total of 167 points, North Central cruised past the 30-team field. Junior John Crain was the Cardinals' first runner to finish. With his impressive performance, Crain won All-America honors for the first time.