North Central Cardinals Win NCAA Division III Football National Championship
Dec 16, 2022
Finishing off one of the most historically dominant campaigns in the 49-year history of the NCAA's split into three divisions, the North Central College football team claimed its second Division III national title in three seasons with a 28-21 victory over the University of Mount Union (Ohio) Friday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The Cardinals completed an unblemished 15-0 season, establishing a new program record for single-season victories while also setting a new all-time Division III standard for rushing yards in a single season (5,325).
Facing off against the Purple Raiders (14-1) for the third straight postseason, North Central used its power running game to gain 44 yards on the first five plays of the evening before Luke Lehnen dropped back and uncorked a pass to 2022 Gagliardi Trophy winner Ethan Greenfield, who got behind the Mount Union coverage for a 28-yard touchdown reception with less than four minutes elapsed.
The Cardinals missed on a 32-yard field goal attempt late in the opening period but were able to double their lead in spectacular fashion midway through the second quarter. Taking over at its own six-yard line after Mount Union's fourth punt of the first half, Lehnen delivered a strike down the middle to Deangelo Hardy. The wideout made the catch near midfield and won a footrace with three Purple Raider defenders to the end zone. The 94-yard completion is the longest in the Cardinals' history.
Mount Union opened the second half on offense and put together an 18-play, 70-yard drive which consumed nearly nine minutes but still did not result in any points. Facing fourth down-and-one at the Cardinals' 10-yard line, the Raiders attempted to convert via the run, but Julian Bell and Angelo Cusumano broke through the line to bring down running back Lance Mitchell three yards behind the line of scrimmage and end the drive.
On the second play of the ensuing drive, Greenfield broke loose for a 58-yard run to the Raiders' 26-yard line. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Greenfield took a direct snap and ran off left end for his second score of the evening. With 14:56 to play, the Cardinals owned a 21-0 advantage.
Mount Union got on the board with a nine-yard scoring run by quarterback Braxton Plunk, and narrowed the gap further to 21-14 after Plunk's three-yard TD pass to Wayne Ruby.
Lehnen, who became the first North Central quarterback to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a single season (1,034), ran 42 yards on the ensuing drive to move the Cardinals into Raider territory. Three plays later, Hardy hauled in a three-yard scoring pass from Lehnen which was ruled an incompletion initially before being overturned on a replay review.
Trailing 28-14, Mount Union brought itself back within one score as Plunk completed a 41-yard pass to Ruby before a four-yard scoring pass to Edwin Reed with just 30 seconds to play. The Raiders attempted an onside kick but Zack Orr recovered to put an end to the contest.
Greenfield was named the game's Most Outstanding Player, a distinction he also received in North Central's 2019 Stagg Bowl victory, ran for 119 yards on 25 carries. Lehnen ran 10 times for 98 yards while Hardy caught three passes for a game-high 107 yards.
Sam Taviani paced the Cardinals' defense with nine tackles (eight solo), while Cusumano finished with seven.
You can re-live all the excitement of the victory with this exclusive highlights video.
For more information on the victory and the Cardinals' historic season, go to northcentralcardinals.com.