By Andy Jachim
The NCC Football team has been dominant in all three phases of the game all season long, cruising to another semifinal playoff matchup. They have been led by loads of experience and overall talent that is rare to find at the Division lll level.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Cards have been carried by the “Big 3” of quarterback Luke Lehnen, running back Ethan Greenfield, and shifty wide receiver, DeAngelo Hardy. This is Lehnen’s second season starting under center here at NCC, and the Sophomore has put on a clinic here in 2022. Throwing for nearly 2,400 yards to this point with 31 Touchdown passes, Lehnen and his targets have been clicking on all cylinders every week. Lehnen also has almost 800 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns with his legs on the season, making him one of the best dual-threat signal callers in all of D3.
Greenfield has been the main offensive back for the Cards for years now. His 2022 campaign has been nothing short of historic as he continues to break records and cement his name into NCAA history. The Gagliardi Trophy finalist has put up jaw-dropping numbers all season long, rushing for 1,751 and 23 touchdowns to this point in the season. This goes along with his incredible 7.8 yards per carry clip over 224 touches in 13 games. One way the Cards can move on to the Stagg Bowl is through the senior from Lindenhurst, IL
DeAngelo Hardy is a human joystick who can easily be viewed as a matchup nightmare for any defender he’s faced in the open field this season. Hardy currently sits just over 1,000 receiving yards, to go along with his 17 trips to the endzone here in 2022. He is Lehnen’s go-to target and their connection has only grown as the season has progressed.
As a unit, the offense scored 54.5 points per game, while accumulating an average of 560.0 total yards per contest. Both of these marks lead the Divison lll level, with the Cards also possessing the top rushing offense in the country, averaging 369.5 yards on the ground per game.
The defensive side of the ball for NCC has been just as dominant for the Cards in their run to the semifinal. This unit has no weakness, despite losing a majority of its starting linebacking core from last season and bringing in practically an entirely new secondary.
Junior B.J. Adamchik is one of the two new starters added to this NCC Linebacking core and has flourished in his new role. The Raleigh, NC native leads the defense in tackles with 76 and brings a whole new energy to this potent unit here at NCC.
Adamchik credits his supporting cast for allowing him to go about his business in the fashion that he does weekly.
“I’m super fortunate to step into a starting role alongside great players who I know will pick me up if I’m down. I also get to play for one of the best, if not the best, defensive coordinator in D3. Every week Coach Dierking and the staff come up with a great game plan that puts us in a position to succeed. With those two ingredients, we’ve been able to put together a great season thus far and have a ton of fun while doing it” said Adamchik.
As a group, the defense leads Division lll in the least points allowed per game with exactly 5.0. They are also the Top 5 in the least yards allowed, surrendering an average of 196.8 yards per contest.
The one thing standing between the Cards and another trip to the Stagg Bowl is the Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders. NCC fell short in the national title game in Canton, Ohio last December to these same Crusaders, by a score of 57-24.
The Crusaders return a few key offensive contributors who had the Cardinals’ number in their matchup last season. Quarterback Kyle King, running back Aphonso Thomas, and wide receiver KJ Miller have all had tremendous seasons, and are looking to lead their group back to the Stagg Bowl for the second straight season.
When I asked B.J. Adamchik about what is ahead with the Crusaders, he immediately began to mention the opportunity to deliver some payback from 2021.
“We understand this is the toughest team we’ve played all year, but that’s exactly why we’re so excited for this game. Additionally, not only is it a semifinal game, which only four teams in the country get to be a part of, but it’s a redemption game. We let the game slip away last year. We all remember how we felt walking off of the field, and this game is a chance to right those wrongs from last year” said the junior linebacker.
Without looking too far ahead, if the Cardinals can come out victorious this weekend, they would be making their third straight trip to the Stagg Bowl next week. This would be a massive step taken by this program, as it could cement the legacy of NCC football into the Divison lll stratosphere. Adamchik feels the same way about what another trip to the game’s biggest stage would mean for everyone involved.
“I think that just being in the position to have a chance to go to our third straight Stagg Bowl is massive. Not many teams can or will ever say that. A third straight national championship appearance would help cement North Central as one of the premier programs in D3 Football. It means that the 2022 Cardinals have continued to build on what prior teams have already established. And I think that’s the most important thing. Proving that we didn’t have a few lucky years, but that North Central football is here to stay. With all that said, we aren’t there yet. We still have a huge test ahead of us, and it will take everything we’ve got, but we’re excited” said Adamchik.
The national semifinal game will kick off from Benedetti Wehrli Stadium at 2:30 pm on Saturday. You can listen to the game live starting at 2:10pm on FM89.1 or the IHeart Radio app.