For the first time since 2010 the North Central College football team has advanced to the NCAA Division III quarterfinals.
After beating the University of Wisconsin-Platteville by 4 touchdowns last Saturday, the Cardinals will play their first road game of the playoffs against Bethel University (Minn.) at noon Saturday.
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With their first away game of the tournament comes a host of other issues the Cardinals will have to resolve if they hope to continue their season. Like North Central, Bethel is undefeated on the year with a potent offense and elite players on defense. On top of that, the game will be played in Arden Hills, Minn., just north of the Twin Cities. Coach John Thorne said the team fully expects to be playing in the extreme cold.
"Hopefully, we will find ways to keep their feet warm and their hands warm," Thorne said. "We've worked on all kinds of things to make sure the guys will be wearing the right amount of clothing. We've talked to the people up there and they will have the sideline heaters on both sides."
With the cold comes other issues besides just keeping warm. Thorne said the Bethel field has already worn away all of the grass, and the footing may be a problem. Everyone on the team will be bringing their normal cleats and tennis shoes, but the team has also purchased a number of different kinds of spikes in order to find the ones that work best.
The game could come down to the play of a few key players on both teams. The Cardinals have seen elite play from quarterback Spencer Stanek all season, but last week it was running back Ryan Kent (York) who posted the big numbers. The junior ran for 257 yards and 4 touchdowns. The two of them will have to find a way to beat All-America linebacker Seth Mathis.
The Cardinals' defense will have to fight against the size of Bethel's offense, but North Central may catch a break. Bethel's conference MVP quarterback, Erik Peterson, was knocked out of the game last week with an injury and was unable to finish. The team held on to win by a touchdown with backup quarterback Tom Keefe. Peterson is a game-time decision for Saturday, Thorne said. However, Thorne said he believes if his seniors can impose their style of play, the Cardinals will move on.
"This is a really great senior class and we just wanted it to be the group that went the furthest," Thorne said. "They've got great academics, tremendous leadership, just a really hard working and close-knit group."