Students, alumni and other Cardinal fans are showing support for North Central College in Naperville this week as its football team celebrates a historic run in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
No. 4-ranked North Central (13-0) advanced to the national semifinals for the first time in school history on Saturday, Dec. 7, with a 41-17 win over Bethel University in St. Paul, Minn. The Cardinals face the biggest challenge to date in their quest for a national championship on Saturday, Dec. 14, when they travel to Alliance, Ohio, to play the top-ranked University of Mount Union Purple Raiders.
“Our goal is to win a national title, and to do that you’ve got to beat the best,” says Jim Miller ’86, North Central’s director of athletics.
No. 1-ranked Mount Union has won 11 national titles in football, holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 28 games, has won 76 straight home games and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division III football playoffs for 19 consecutive years.
The Cardinals have won eight straight College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin titles in football, and this year’s seniors were freshmen when the team last advanced to the quarterfinals in 2010—its previous deepest run.
“I’m most impressed with the composure and resolve of this team,” Miller says. “As we’ve built this program we’ve learned from each previous experience.”
Football was first played in 1897 at the Naperville school, then known as North-Western College. By 1904, the football team won its first Illinois State College Championship. For more than a century, the sport of football has engaged the student body, alumni, faculty, staff and community with the College, helped raise awareness about the school and contributed to its identity as a successful institution.
“In the first decade of the 1900s college football was a really big deal,” says Ann Durkin Keating, a history professor who holds the Dr. C. Frederick Toenniges endowed chair at the College and who co-edited “The Encyclopedia of Chicago.”
“Our team and fans traveled all over, by rail and automobile, to play and cheer on the athletes,” Keating says. “Beyond Naperville and the EUB (Evangelical United Brethren) Church it was through football that people in metropolitan Chicago learned about us.”
Football even contributed significantly to the debate in the 1920s about changing the school’s name to avoid confusion with Northwestern University in Evanston, Keating says. School leaders wanted to distinguish the College academically, but they were also frustrated with Chicago newspaper editors who couldn’t seem to tell the schools apart when reporting football results in the sports pages.
Because North Central College uses a trimester schedule and the fall term ended before Thanksgiving, there are fewer students on campus in December to show their support for the team. Many students take advantage of D-Term opportunities to study abroad or engage in service trips.
Yet more than 100 watched the Cardinals defeat Bethel Saturday at a viewing party at Bar Louie in Naperville, and a similar turnout is expected to watch Saturday’s matchup vs. Mount Union. Another large contingent of loyal fans traveled to Minnesota and will be making the trek to Ohio this weekend.
“We’re organizing a caravan and a fan bus to Ohio,” says Mary Reynolds, the College’s associate director of alumni events and coordinator of special events. “It’s exciting to see the team doing so well!”
National Semifinal at University of Mount Union (Mount Union Stadium, Alliance, Ohio)
The 13-0 North Central College Cardinals face the 13-0 University of Mount Union Purple Raiders at noon (Eastern) Saturday, Dec. 14, in Alliance, Ohio.
Kickoff: Noon, Eastern time (11 a.m. Central)
Live Video: Provided by ESPN at espn.go.com/watchespn/index
Radio: WONC-FM 89.1
Live Stats: Links will be available at ncaa.com/scoreboard/football/d3/2013
Location: Mount Union Stadium, corner of State Street and Rockhill, Alliance OH 44601. Click here for location information from Mapquest.
Tickets: All tickets are $8 and the entire stadium is reserved seating. Tickets may be ordered in advance online at athletics.mountunion.edu/sports/fball/gametickets13 and can be picked up on Friday from noon to 2 p.m. Eastern time in the lobby of the McPherson Academic & Athletic Complex (MAAC) or at the will-call window at the stadium on Saturday beginning at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. Same-day ticket sales will also begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Local viewing: The College is again hosting a viewing party at Bar Louie, 22 E. Chicago Ave. All are welcome to stop by starting at 10 a.m. and watch the game with fellow Cardinal fans. However, if you plan to attend, please RSVP to the Office of Alumni Relations at email@example.com or 630-637-5202 by 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12. Food and drink are not included in this free event.
For those who are traveling to Ohio and want to connect with other Cardinal fans, click here for more information.