Brad Spencer on Crushing Carroll and Matchup With Millikin

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Brad Spencer on a Dominant, Easy Victory

Across sports, coaches like to often say things like ‘you only learn when you lose’ or ‘you grow through adversity.’ So what does North Central head football coach Brad Spencer hope his team learned from a 73-0 win over Carroll?

“Well, you learn every week,” Spencer said. “The message after this one was ‘great job, let’s celebrate a win.’ We’re always going to celebrate a win, but at the same time you’re always looking at the details and the ways you can get better. Our message is always ‘let’s try to get one percent better,’ and that doesn’t change whether you’re up 33-20 against Wheaton or 70-something to zero against Carroll.”

The Pioneers were coming off a double-overtime victory over Augustana, who look to potentially be the ‘best of the rest’ in the CCIW outside of North Central and Wheaton. So it would have been fair to expect Saturday’s game in Waukesha to be more competitive.

“We really felt Carroll is a well coached team,” said Spencer, adding this wasn’t the first time he’d been asked if the game had been easier than expected. “They’ve gotten a lot better since their new staff took over two years ago, and I think this just shows what we can do when we show up and play a strong game. The message was not to have a letdown after the Wheaton game, to show up and be us, do what we do, and our guys did that. I think it speaks more to what our team did than what Carroll did or didn’t do.”

Defense and Offense Both Perfect

The win was the first shutout of the season for the Cardinals defense, who allowed just 164 total yards of offense. It looked like Carroll were set for their first points of the day in garbage time, but junior linebacker Adam Green came up with an interception on the one-yard-line to seal the shutout.

“I’m just really glad that down the stretch are guys were able to make a couple of plays when they needed to,” Spencer said of the second-team defense’s efforts. “Adam Green was in the right place at the right time and made a really terrific interception. One of our focuses going into the game was their quarterback was top in the country in not turning the ball over and touchdown passes, so we really wanted to make him work.”

On the offensive side, the Cardinals met little resistance as they rushed for 363 yards and sophomore quarterback Luke Lehnen completed 83 percent of his passes including four touchdowns. A good day at the office for the Brad Spencer-led unit.

“We wanted to go into the game and score on our first drive, control the line of scrimmage and not have any turnovers; and we checked all three of those boxes,” Spencer said, summing up his offense’s performance. “Certainly rushing for almost 400 yards again is a great way to start. And then Luke was 10-of-12, extremely efficient. So I think efficiency is the name of the game.”

Injuries and Opportunity

Two frequent offensive contributors for the Cardinals were forced to leave the game with injuries. Junior wide receiver Joey Lombardi, who has been the number-two receiving option in the offense this year, and senior backup quarterback Jake Johnson had to depart with ankle and foot injuries, respectively.

“Joey, we’re likely going to miss him for a couple weeks with an ankle injury but we do expect him back,” Spencer said of the transfer from Illinois State. “And Jacob’s really stepped up…I’m really proud of him for the way he’s coming on this year. And then you saw him this past weekend step up, have a touchdown, be in the right spot. Sunday night in film I pointed him out on four or five plays. He’s hustling and he’s blocking and doing everything that we feel is our standard.”

Johnson is in his third season in relief, first of Broc Rutter and now Luke Lehnen, and has become a vital part of the Cardinals offense both on and off the field.

“He’s a great glue guy,” Spencer said of Johnson. “He decided to come back for a fifth year to be around his teammates and understood his role and what it was going to be, and fulfills that every single week. It’s one of the toughest jobs in sports to be the backup quarterback because you have to prepare physically and emotionally and feel what the starter feels, but then you don’t get the joy of the game reps. We’re certainly hoping and praying that he’s ok, it’s been good news so far.”

As for this week’s game, the Millikin Big Blue are the only team to score at least 20 points against North Central each of the last two years. However, they’re in a bit of a rebuilding year and coming off a 70-0 loss to Augustana. But Brad Spencer hopes his players focus far more on themselves than their opponents.

“Typically when Millikin shows up they play hard,” said Spencer. “They’ve got a new coaching staff so I’m sure they’re still learning what they’re trying to implement. But every single week, we’re getting a better team than what you see on film, and we know that. We now the target’s on our back and that’s the position we want to be in.”