ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP)Ethan Greenfield, Luke Lehnen and DeAngelo Hardy delivered the big plays and North Central (Ill.) beat Mount Union 28-21 on Friday night at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium to win the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl and claim the NCAA Division III championship.
The Cardinals (15-0) finished off a perfect season for rookie coach Brad Spencer.
”It’s unbelievable,” said Spencer. ”I’m so proud of my staff and players. I just didn’t want to mess it up as a first-year coach.”
It was North Central’s third trip to the title game. The Cardinals won it in 2019 and lost last season to Mary Hardin-Baylor – after beating Mount Union 26-13 in the semifinals.
The fact that North Central beat 13-time champion Mount Union (14-1) wasn’t lost on Spencer.
”We’re trying to be the best,” he stated. ”And in order to get there you have to beat the best. Beating Mount Union is a step in that direction.”
The Cardinals grabbed a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game. Greenfield carried three times for 16 yards before catching a 34-yard touchdown pass from Lehnen, who also had a 26-yard run on the drive.
Mount Union, playing without injured running back DeAndre Parker and his 1,254 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns, struggled on offense.
Mount Union faced a fourth-and-1 at the North Central 46-yard line trailing 7-0 when Purple Raiders coach Geoff Dartt decided not to go for it after watching his team rush nine times for minus-17 yards. Elliott Warner’s punt was downed on the Cardinals’ 6-yard line. On first down, Lehnen connected with Hardy for a 94-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. It was the longest touchdown in program history for the Cardinals.
Mount Union mounted an 18-play 70-yard drive to open the third quarter, taking nearly nine minutes off the clock, but came up empty when the Cardinals stuffed a fourth-and-2 run.
Greenfield took a second-down handoff and raced 58 yards to the Raiders’ 26-yard line. The third quarter ended with the Cardinals 4 yards away from the end zone. Greenfield took a direct snap on the first play of the fourth quarter and scooted around the left end for a score and a 21-0 lead.
Mount Union answered with Braxton Plunk’s 9-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keeper to get within 21-7 with 9:19 left to play.
Mount Union forced a three-and-out and Plunk used nine plays before connecting with Wayne Ruby Jr. for a 3-yard touchdown to cut the Raiders’ deficit to seven. It was Ruby’s 30th touchdown catch of the season.
Lehnen passed to Hardy for a 3-yard touchdown to put the Cardinals up 28-14 with 1:24 left to play. Lehnen had a 42-yard run on third-and-10 to set up the score.
The Raiders scored with 30 seconds remaining on Plunk’s 4-yard touchdown toss to Edwin Reed after connecting with Ruby for a 41-yard gain on the previous play. The onside kick failed.
Lehnen completed just 4 of 10 passes, but three of them went for scores. He carried 10 times for 98 yards. Greenfield, a three-time AP All-America selection, was this season’s Gagliardi Trophy winner, given to the top player in Division III.
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