Beneficial rivalry: North Central, Wheaton have pushed each other to greater success

It's tough to imagine a more mutually beneficial bitter rivalry than North Central vs. Wheaton.

The two schools separated by seven miles first played in 1900, then began vying for the Little Brass Bell trophy in 1946.

The stakes have gotten higher in recent years. One of the two schools has at least tied for the CCIW championship for 16 straight years. Defending Division 3 national champion North Central is ranked No. 1, and Wheaton No. 10 heading into Saturday's meeting at McCully Stadium in Wheaton.

"It's a high-level playoff game, we feel like," North Central coach Brad Spencer said. "There's no animosity. You're not going to see guys take cheap shots or get penalties or waste time on anything besides football."

For North Central, the Wheaton game has been important because the Cardinals typically roll through the rest of the schedule. So far this year, North Central has outscored three opponents 170-13.

Last year, North Central beat Wheaton 33-20. The Cardinals' second-closest game before the playoffs was a 31-0 win over Washington University.

Even while North Central has become a D3 powerhouse, the rivalry stayed competitive. Wheaton won the lone playoff meeting between the schools in 2016, and the Thunder beat North Central in 2019, when the Cardinals went on to win their first national title.

North Central has a good number of players back from last season, including QB Luke Lehnen and All-American wide receiver DeAngelo Hardy (Lakes). The Cardinals have used a four-man committee to replace last year's D3 player of the year Ethan Greenfield at running back.

At the moment, North Central's leading rusher is junior Joe Sacco (St. Edward), with freshman Sean Allen (Homewood-Flossmoor) vying for snaps. Darius Byrd (Bolingbrook) and Jordan Chisum (Zion-Benton) are also in the mix.

Wheaton piled up 395 passing yards last week in a 31-24 win over Augustana. Ben Thorson (Wheaton Academy), younger brother for former Northwestern QB Clayton, decided to stay for a fifth year and is now a first-time starter for the Thunder. Seth Kortenhoeven (Wheaton North) had 10 receptions for 162 yards last week.

"The first couple of weeks have tested our mettle and I'm just excited we've continued to rise to the challenge," said fourth-year Wheaton coach Jesse Scott. "There have been two decades now where this game has been incredibly tightly contested."

Cats come back:

Northwestern proved again anything is possible in the Big Ten West. The Wildcats trailed Minnesota 31-10 after three quarters on Saturday, then came back to win 37-34 in overtime.

QB Ben Bryant (Lyons) threw for 396 yards overall and completed 9 of 12 passes during the last-ditch drive to tie the score, then found TE Charlie Mangieri for the winning touchdown on NU's first play of OT. Senior Bryce Kirtz contributed 215 receiving yards.

"We've been through hell all summer - workouts, everything that's going on right now," safety Coco Azema said. "Just being able to fall back on that."

Charleston in charge:

Kudos to Eastern Illinois for pulling out a victory in the final minute for the second week in a row. On Saturday, the Panthers outscored McNeese State 17-0 in the fourth, with Stone Galloway booting a 56-yard field goal for the winning points with 20 seconds left. Last week, EIU scored a touchdown with 30 seconds left to beat Illinois State.

Local player of the week:

QB Ian Luyando, who grew up in Mexico before finishing high school at Buffalo Grove, threw for 388 yards in Aurora University's win over Illinois Benedictine.

Results-based top 5:

1. Florida State; 2. Texas; 3. Washington State; 4. Oregon; 5. LSU.

Interesting game of the week:

At least locally, it's Northern Illinois at Toledo. The Rockets look like the class of the MAC West, so if NIU is a contender, this is the week to show it.

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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