Brad Spencer and the Cardinals Are Champions, For the First Time and Again
With their victory over Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday, the North Central Cardinals became College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin for the second consecutive season and the first year with Brad Spencer as head coach. The team last won back-to-back outright titles in 2010 and 2011, and Spencer was quick to point the credit to the players who made it happen once again.
“It’s special for our seniors,” Spencer said of the group at the core of both titles. “For these guys to go out as conference champions is really important for us. That’s our first goal, that’s what we want to be able to accomplish every single year so it’s great for these guys to be able to do that and go out as back-to-back champions.”
Unfortunately in the conference-clinching win, North Central conceded a field goal in the second quarter to end a run of more than four games without allowing a point. While it was fun while it lasted, a streak or record like that is far from the team’s main focus. It was yet another strong defensive performance, with four turnovers and no touchdowns allowed.
“Yeah, you don’t want to get to wrapped up in records, stats or streaks,” said Spencer. “You want to focus on your performance each and every week how you’re preparing. I told the guys Sunday night ‘sorry the streak had to end,’ but we’ll take giving up three points just about every single weekend. So still proud of those guys, they played great.”
The team may have been great, but the weather certainly wasn’t. The combination of wind gusts in excess of 60 miles-per-hour and scatter storms made it a miserable day to be outdoors, but the Cardinals running game was unaffected as they controlled the contest on a day ill-suited for passing.
“Well we’ve got a lot of guys back there who are very capable, whether it’s at running back or quarterback,” Spencer said of his team’s ball-carrying options. “We knew coming into the week what the weather was gonna be, we were prepared for it, we adjusted out game plan for it. The guys just did a great job executing. Bad weather I’d say is football weather, and you’ve gotta be able to play in these types of conditions if you want to play late into November and December. So it’s great to see our guys handle it.”
After undergoing shoulder surgery following last season, junior offensive lineman Zach Fortier made his second consecutive start. While the offense didn’t struggle without him, it’s been an important addition back to the squad of players who literally push the Cardinals’ attack forward.
“Yeah it’s been great to have Zach back, he’s a great addition to our group,” said Spencer on the junior lineman’s return to health and action. “We’ve got six guys we feel comfortable with putting on the field right now, but him and Will [Ebert] are both very capable at right tackle and they give us a little bit of flexibility if one of the other guys needs a break or one of the other guys goes down.”
Elsewhere on offense, junior Nic Rummell (usually a starter at cornerback) returned to wide receiver for the first time since 2019. The North Central receiving corps has been decimated with injuries, but Rummell stepped up to the moment as an emergency replacement .
“We thought Nick did a great job,” Spencer said of Rummell. “We had let him know Sunday that was a possibility, Monday we made the call, and Tuesday he was out there on the practice field playing wide receiver. Honestly, it looked like riding a bike… That room has certainly been hit by injury, so just needed to bring him back for some depth and to put another weapon out there.”
Here’s to the Seniors
There has obviously been much to celebrate this season, but the most exciting moment of the year yet may have come on a touchdown for senior defensive end Tyler Rich, in which he fell on to a ball that had been mistakenly snapped by the IWU center and rolled all the way to the end zone. What followed were cheers perhaps louder than any others from the bench this season.
“Yeah, maybe!,” said Spencer. “Tyler was a captain for us this week. He’s from Pontiac, from the Bloomington area. So to have him get a touchdown it’s rare, it’s hard to do at defensive line so it’s great to see. But I think any time you get a defensive touchdown guys are gonna be excited, but particularly when it’s for a fifth-year senior and a guy who’s a captain on that day things kind of all just aligned and the guys were pretty excited about it.”
The team now returns to Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium for their final home game of the regular season, before which they will honor their senior members. They’ve not just been a big part of some very successful teams, but been vital to North Central’s growth and emergence as a Division III football power.
“We really believe that this group has allowed us to take another step,” Spencer said of the seniors. “They’ve risen our standard, so for me as a first-year head coach I owe them everything. It’s never been about me this year, it’s about the seniors and what they’re accomplishing. I’m just thankful that they’re allowing me to be along for the ride, kind of direct traffic here or there. But they’ve really done a great job.”