Feature News

North Central football ends historic season by coming up just short in 50th Stagg Bowl

Dec 15, 2023

Playing in their fourth consecutive Stagg Bowl, the North Central Cardinals’ season ended in dramatic fashion, as they fell to the State University of New York at Cortland Red Dragons 38-37 on Friday, December 15, at Salem Stadium in Salem, Va. North Central was bidding for a second straight NCAA Division III national championship and third in four seasons. 

Despite the loss, it was a landmark season for the Cardinals, including their third straight unbeaten regular season, in which they broke the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) records for points scored (576), touchdowns (83) and total offensive yards (5,504). After the Stagg Bowl, the Cardinals now hold the single-season Division III records for yards per play (9.53), yards per pass (13.55), yards per completion (18.84), and fewest punts per game (1.5). North Central also had a school-record 11 student-athletes named D3football.com All-Americans, shattering the previous mark of six set in 2022.

The North Central football team runs out on the field for the Stagg Bowl.

Photo courtesy of Steve Woltmann

Prior to the Stagg Bowl, quarterback Luke Lehnen ’25 was announced as the winner of this year’s Gagliardi Trophy, the premier individual award in Division III football. The trophy is awarded to the nation’s most outstanding DIII football player and recognizes excellence in athletics, academics and community service. Lehnen is the third Gagliardi winner in school history, joining Ethan Greenfield ’22 and Broc Rutter ’20.  

Luke Lehnen

Luke Lehnen

Tight end Bobby Behmer ’25 was also honored before the national championship game with the NCAA Elite 90 award. At the finals site for each of the NCAA’s 90 championships, the Elite 90 is presented to the student-athlete who has the highest cumulative grade-point average. It was the third straight Elite 90 award for a member of the Cardinal football team. 

For more details on this historic season, visit the Cardinal athletics website at northcentralcardinals.com 

Bobby Behmer

Bobby Behmer