No. 4 North Central tops No. 5 Wheaton College
The bell was rung again Saturday in Wheaton.
North Central and Wheaton College have played each other since 1900. But last year's meeting was canceled due to the pandemic.
The two teams, who are both ranked in the top five in D-III football, renewed the rivalry in their 102nd meeting. North Central won 20-7 before 4,727 to claim the traditional "The Little Brass Bell" prize. It was also the opener for both teams in the CCIW.
"Our kids play out of their minds," said North Central coach John Thorne, whose team won the 2019 national championship despite losing to Wheaton during the regular season. "Our defense does not get enough credit. I think the two best teams in the country played tonight.
This is a war every year. It was a phenomenal crowd. I am just so proud of our kids."
The teams played to 7-7 tie at the half with 4th-ranked North Central missing a pair of scoring opportunities.
Wheaton took the opening kickoff and put together a 10-play, 68-yard scoring drive. The Thunder was able to keep the drive alive thanks to converting a trio of their down plays. Luke Anthony (23-of-42, 275 yards) connected on a 9-yard touchdown pass to make it 7-0.
But that was the last time No. 5 Wheaton would reach the end zone. The NCC defense, led by Dakota Cremeens, Braden Lindmark, Ben Wong, Sam Taviani and Storm Simmons kept the Thunder in check.
"They got one and know it was our time to play our brand of ball," Wong said. "That is the kind of ball we know we can play."
North Central (2-0, 1-0) was able to tie it thanks to a pair of big plays from a pair of Lakes High school grads.
Ethan Greenfield's 34-yard punt return gave the Cardinal the ball at the Thunder 44. On the next play, freshman quarterback Luke Lehnen (12-of-19, 288 yards) hooked up with a wide open DeAngelo Hardy for a touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
North Central missed on two chances to take the lead. Thomas Mitchell missed a 36-yard field goal and Alec Wolff dropped a wide-open touchdown catch.
The Cardinal took the second half kickoff and put together a 10-play, 87 yard drive. Greenfield tallied on a two-yard run to put the Cardinal up 14-7.
North Central was finally able to put the game away late in the fourth quarter with 1:56 to play. Greenfield scored in an 18-yard run. It was set up on a 55-yard reception by Kamienski, who had 6 receptions for 134 yards.
"It means a lot to win today," said Greenfield, who rushed for 57 yards. "We have guys here who put aside their loves and play for a fifth year."
Wheaton coach Jesse Scott, who is in his second game as head coach, said his team will be able to move on after the loss.
"Our theme is to be steadfast through the storm," Scott said. "We knew what we were going to get when we got on this field. I am proud of our team and their response."