Very early Thursday morning, Dec. 15, the driver of one of two Windy City buses greeted us with a huge smile and “Good Morning” as we were on our way to Merner Fieldhouse on the campus of North Central College.
The huge shadow cast on the west exterior wall of Merner Fieldhouse depicting the Century Walk sculpture titled “College, Community and Country” also seemed to be an inspirational greeting as we stepped into Championship Plaza. The sculpture is a tribute to Cardinal football player and World War II Veteran Billy Shatzer II.
The reason for our earlier-than-usual visit to Merner Field House was to witness a rousing rally of cheers and music for the 2022 Cardinals football team that had already flown to the East Coast where they would play in the NCAA Division III Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Annapolis the following evening.
We were mindful of what a thrill it’s been to watch the undefeated team advance to its third consecutive national championship in the NCAA Division III. Beginning at 5AM, North Central was hosting the pep rally to feature the College’s marching band, cheer and dance teams before loaded buses departed for Annapolis at 6:30AM.
We quickly learned the bus driver loves what he does. Vince Simmons, “spelled just like the mattress company,” he noted, has been driving buses for 52 years and he’s logged five-million miles! First with Greyhound and followed with Pace, for the past 16 years he’s been with Windy City Limousine and Bus. Most of his trips are via corporate charters for professional and college sports teams, he explained. And he’s very proud that to date he’s never had a accident.
“Cubs, Sox, Toronto Blue Jays, North Central College…This year I’ve driven for North Central five or six times,” Simmons said.
Simmons figures that by the time he returns to Naperville with his overlay in Pittsburgh he’ll have another 750-800 miles to his credit and safe-driving record.
Pep Rally from 5AM to 6AM Thurs., Dec. 15, at Merner Fieldhouse
Mindful that the undefeated football Cardinals will play again in the NCAA Division III Stagg Bowl, North Central College marching band, cheer and dance teams performed for interested media inside Merner Field House.
Immediately following the pep rally, fan buses departed for the championship game in Annapolis, Maryland.
The kick off for the 2022 Stagg Bowl between the North Central College Cardinals and the University of Mount Union (Ohio) Raiders was at 6PM Dec. 16 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
The NCAA Division III Championship game was broadcast live on ESPN-U.
Victory is scored by North Central College Cardinals 28-21
After a record-setting year, the North Central College Cardinals clinched a perfect season claiming the NCAA Division III national title over University of Mount Union, 28-21, the program’s second national title and third consecutive appearance at the Stagg Bowl.
Welcome home, North Central College Cardinals!
Very late Friday evening, North Central College notified the community with an invitation to gather between 1 and 1:30PM in the Championship Plaza, located at 455 S. Brainard Street, to welcome home the 2022 NCAA Division III National Champions.
Fans and local media began arriving about 1PM only to learn the buses carrying marching band, cheer and dance teams had arrived back on campus mid-morning; yet, buses that met first-year head Coach Brad Spencer and the team at the airport had been slightly delayed. Considering the frosty afternoon and 24 degrees, most fans waited inside their cars or Merner Fieldhouse or Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium until the buses looped into position to let out the team by Championship Plaza.
North Central College brought home its football program’s second national title during its third consecutive appearance at the Stagg Bowl.
Both teams were 14-0 heading into the championship game. North Central had been ranked first and Mount Union second all season in both the AFCA and D3Football.com polls.
And did you know? Coach Brad Spencer, the 41-year-old Naperville native who had played high school football at Naperville Central High School and college football at North Central, was 14-0 in his first season as head coach for the Cardinals.
Considering three years since their 2019 Championship (when one year in 2020 was without conference play), the top prize in NCAA Division III football has returned to North Central College. The No. 1-ranked Cardinals started strong with a touchdown on their first possession. The Cardinals also withstood a fourth-quarter rally.
In the end, the Cardinals defeated No. 2-ranked Mount Union of Alliance, Ohio, 28-21 to win the 2022 Stagg Bowl.
By the time the Cardinals returned to Championship Plaza, most students at North Central College already had headed home for the holidays/semester break that began Dec. 10.
With fond memories of a community celebration in January 2020 after the Cardinals’ championship season in 2019, a similar event likely will be held in Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium sometime after the second semester begins on Jan. 9, 2023.
Upon reflection of this championship season that began the tournament on Sat., Nov. 19, with four weekly play-off victories hosted at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium, this observer remains mindful of Coach Brad Spencer’s first season when he led the Cardinals to their second title in three visits to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl. —PN
Kelly Murphy, North Central College Director of Communication & PR, contributed to this story. (PN Photos)
Alongside the 2001 Century Walk sculpture titled “College, Community and Country” by artist Shirley McWorter-Moss, the plaque reads: Bill Shatzer, a graduate of nearby Mooseheart Academy, enrolled at North Central College in 1938. He was a four-sport student athlete garnering all-conference and “Little All-American” honors in football. After graduating in 1942, Bill enlisted in the Naval Air Corps and at the Training Station in Iowa City gained national gridiron fame for his brilliant play as a member of the pre-flight team, the Iowa Seahawks. Their wartime opponents included major powerhouses as Michigan, Northwestern and Notre Dame. Before leaving for duty in the Aleutian Islands, Bill married his college sweetheart, Sue Truesdell. He was reported missing in action on May 16, 1944, and never saw his son, Willian Warren Shatzer, III.