North Central College football and Wheaton collide for the 74th Battle of the Little Brass Bell

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“There’s a lot of hype around the game. Usually we’re two great teams but beyond that this has been a rivalry that has gone back and forth for years. The bell is something that we cherish and something that we want to keep and earn every year,” explained North Central linebacker B.J. Adamchik. 

While the North Central College football team is in search of a third Division III National title in four seasons, the marquee matchup every year during the regular season is the Battle for the Little Brass Bell against Wheaton College. This game dates back to 1900,  but the Little Brass Bell itself is a political artifact dating back to the 1840’s when Naperville and Wheaton battled for control of the DuPage County Courthouse. The Bell Trophy was introduced in 1946 and since the debut, Wheaton College leads the series 49-23-1, and from 1983-2004, the Cardinals only took home the bell twice. The rivalry has been much more competitive since 2005, with each team holding an 8-8 record heading into 2023 after North Central retained the trophy the past two seasons.

“It’s a big opportunity year in and year out. Coming into North Central, the goal every year is to beat these guys no matter where it’s at. It’s a huge game, they’re a quality opponent, always a top ten and always ready to play so it’s a huge game for us every year,” said North Central Offensive Lineman Jarod Thornton. 

Coach Brad Spencer wants to keep the Bell home in Naperville

The Bell means a lot to everyone who has ever put on a North Central football uniform, including head coach Brad Spencer, who was never able to lift the bell himself during his decorated playing career at NCC. Fortunately, Coach Spencer has been a part of many wins over Wheaton since joining the Cardinal coaching staff in 2005, including a 33-20 victory in his first Bell game as head coach last fall.

“It was hard taking it out of its case this morning. I told the guys that it’s not something I was looking forward to and I didn’t think about it until this week because every year you have to take it out, and it’s on the line,” said Cardinals Head Football Coach Brad Spencer. 

The Cardinals run over the Thunder

Coming into the Saturday afternoon matchup, the Cardinals brought an undefeated record, a number one ranking and an explosive offense, scoring 170 points in their first three games. NCC got the ball right away and on the second play of scrimmage, running back Joe Sacco popped a 73-yard touchdown run that silenced a hostile environment at McCully Stadium. The Thunder did respond with a passing touchdown of their own later in the quarter, but the Cardinals quickly scored 28 straight points to lead 35-7 at the half. The Thunder were able to put up 28 points on the board in the second half, but they could not keep pace with the prolific North Central ground game. For a third consecutive season, the Cardinals took home the Little Brass Bell by a 54-35 score.

“We feel like it’s our responsibility to try and turn that back a little bit. So the last three years have been a step in the right direction but next will be a new challenge with a new team and new players. But for now, we’re thankful to get three in a row and win today at their place,” said Spencer. 

The game witnessed seven touchdowns on the ground and three of those scores were from 40 or more yards out. One of those runs was a Luke Lehnen 78-yard touchdown. The junior only completed five passes in the game, but CCIW Offensive Player of the Week  just wanted to get his hands on The Bell for a third straight year by any method necessary.

“It means a lot to get the bell back on our side my freshman year and keep it. This means a lot to our teammates and staff and the alumni who came before us. We just wanted to do it for them because they come here and watch and support us. So we wanted to make them proud and bringing the bell back is awesome,” said Cardinal quarterback Luke Lehnen. 

North Central ran for 447 rushing yards at a 12 yards per carry average, with Lehnen and Sacco leading the charge with 308 yards combined on the ground. Freshman Sean Allen and Charles Coleman also added over 60 rushing yards each to round out the attack. The dominating victory puts the Cards at 4-0 and in the driver’s seat for the CCIW title. While they continue that chase along with the quest for another National Championship, keeping that Little Brass Bell in Naperville is something that NCC players past and present will always cherish. 

“The rivalry is so much fun to play, gets the adrenaline going, playing a big game against a good opponent and it’s just so much fun to go out there with my teammates and brothers and just play,” said Cardinal running back Joe Sacco.