BJ Adamchik and Jarod Thornton on a Home Semifinal and Stagg Bowl Rematch
Sophomore middle linebacker BJ Adamchik and junior center Jarod Thornton have been at the center of everything, both literally and figuratively, throughout this season for undefeated North Central, including in this past weekend’s quarterfinal victory over Ithaca College. But for everyone around Cardinals football, the biggest news of the week is that they’ll host a national football semifinal for the first time on Saturday.
“It’s an honor to be playing a national semifinal at home here in Naperville,” said Thornton. “There’s so many people in years past who have put in so much work for us to be in this situation. We just drink from the well they dug, so now that we’re here in this opportunity it’s hard not to be starstruck almost and take advantage of the moment, and just have fun with it.”
“I think Jarod said it well, it’s a culmination of the work of everyone who came before us,” Adamchik continued. “We’re just trying to build off what they started. It’s the first time we’ve ever played in a semifinal at home and I think that’s a really big deal and something that we should cherish and try to enjoy in the moment. But we’re still trying to get to the next one, so it’s another game in the grand scheme of things but a really big one at that.”
As for the win over Ithaca College, one of the things that defined it was the dominance of the offensive line against the outsized and overmatched Ithaca defense.
“At the end of the day it’s about us, it doesn’t really matter who’s out there,” Thornton said of his group’s performance. “We want to come out and play our brand of football, so at the end of the day it’s just another day at the office up front for us and it was good to see that we were able to get our job done.”
Meanwhile, the Cardinals defensive line won their battle for the line of scrimmage as well, as have they done most games this season. That makes things easier on the rest of the North Central defense, particularly with the opposing offensive line having to dedicate a lot of attention to the Cardinals’ formidable front four.
“I’m super lucky, [Angelo Cusumano] and I get to play behind one of the best, if not the best, d-lines in the country,” said Adamchik. “It’s almost guaranteed that they’re gonna have a great game every week, so when they’re doing their job it really makes our job a lot easier because our picture, whatever we’re seeing, is super clear. We’re not getting lineman working up to us really quick on double-teams. We’re able to read if it’s run or pass and find our gaps and adjust if we need to. It just makes our lives a lot easider.”
While lineman often go unnoticed for their vital roll, Thornton did stand out on senior running back Ethan Greenfield’s first touchdown run, which while from less than 2 yards out saw Thornton almost end the play out of the back of the end zone having pushed his man so far.
“Especially on the goal line, we know it’s scoring time,” said Thornton. “When you’re on the one-yard line you’ve gotta give everything you’ve got to get into the end zone. So we know if we’re down there, we’ve got four of the best running backs in the country and we’ve got confidence that we’ve got the best offensive line in the country and we want to put the weight of that on our backs.”
Meanwhile, Adamchik and the Cardinals defense only gave up one score to the Bombers’ attack. Ithaca began the game by throwing a flurry of quick passes out wide on screen plays, but the Cardinals were able to adjust and snuff out the strategy before it could cause any significant problems.
“It makes sense for their game plan, they’ve got a bunch of really fast, really shifty wide receivers,” Adamchik explained. “So you try to get your best players the ball in space, so it’s a smart game plan for them to try and do but I think we were able to shut that down by just playing really good team defense. We didn’t have guys on the perimeter trying to do their own thing and make the play. We have are force guys keeping everything inside then our pursuit coming outside-in. Everyone’s doing their job and playing as a team.”
Going Above and Beyond Excellence
It’s hard to ignore just how dominant the Cardinals have been this season, leading the nation almost wire-to-wire in both scoring offense and scoring defense. They’ve outscored their opponents 709-65, which doesn’t leave a whole lot to be critical of. Unless, of course, you’re a member of the team.
“We review the film on Sundays and look at things with a really critical eye,” Thornton said of how they view their performances. “So from the outside looking in, it looks like we play a really good game, but we know there’s always things we’ve gotta fix week in and week out. So we get back to square one on Tuesday every week.”
“When we watch film we’re super critical about it, always trying to get better,” added Adamchik. “Up to this point, nobody on our team has played a perfect game. Nobody’s graded out at 100%, which means we have plays we messed up on or our teammates have messed up on so we’re all just trying to call each other up to the standard and make sure we’re fixing those mistakes so we don’t make the same ones next week.”
The upcoming semifinal is a rematch of last year’s Stagg Bowl, in which the Cardinals lost to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders. That night in Canton, Ohio has fueled this team over the last year, and they’re glad now to have the chance to have another crack at the defending champions.
“That game last year, we all known how it went,” Thornton said, shaking his head. “Personally, I know once we stepped off that field on December 17 last year the only thing I could think about was getting back to this moment and playing this team again with an opportunity to right that wrong. Everything I did in the offseason, and I’m pretty sure everything that our team did in the offseason, it was all for this moment right here… and prove that we should have won that game last year; it’s over now, but we’ve got an opportunity to do it again.”
“My role last year was a little smaller laster year,” said Adamchik who primarily played on special teams. “I know Jarod as the starting center had a lot of influence on it… I think walking off the field, my biggest takeaway from it was that all the seniors walking off the field knowing they might never get to play football again. So just trying to right those wrongs and avenge what we as a team fell short of last year. Like Jarod said, it’s been on our minds trying to get back here. We knew we could do it, now where here, so it’s about doing what we didn’t get done last year.”
A win would mean a third Stagg Bowl appearance in three season after the Cardinals had never previously contested one before their fist win in 2019. The players on this team realize that getting here is not just because of the work they’ve put in this year, but more of a reflection of all the work it took to raise the program to the level where getting there once, let alone three times, was even possible in the first place.
“Like I said earlier, all the guys that came before us, they put so much work into this program,” Thornton said of the team’s sustained success. “My freshman year was the first time we had ever gotten to a Stagg Bowl, and just seeing the type of program I had jumped into and understanding that we had never been there before, that kind of surprised me and shocked me because of the culture and traditions of the program and how it’s run. I’ve just gotta give all the praise to the guys that came before us and our seniors now for putting us in a position to be this successful year-in and year-out. I can’t wait for the opportunity to get back to another one.”
“I think it means that we’re doing all the little things right,” said Adamchik. “It’s hard to get to a national championship once, harder to do it again a second time. We’re in a position to do it for a third year in a row and I think that’s super impressive by any time at any standard, in any division. We’re relying on each other as a team, we’re trusting our coaches, and we’re doing what we need to do to win every single week.”