NCC hoping for extended playoff stay
By Paul LaTour For The Sun November 18, 2010 7:50PM
North Central College quarterback Spencer Stanek (6) fires a pass past Charlie Fuentes (28) of North Park. The Cardinals won 61-7 to clinch the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin Championship. Nov. 13, 2010. | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
NCAA Division iii playoffs
North Central College vs. St. Norbert College, noon Saturday at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium
Updated: April 2, 2011 5:27PM
There was a time when Matt Wenger and Derek Sulo weren’t sure they’d get another shot at finding postseason glory for North Central College.
Last year the two defensive stalwarts were injured and missed the majority of the season. In their absence — and due to a host of other injured players — the Cardinals failed to qualify for the NCAA Division III playoffs for the first time in five years.
Now the Cardinals are back in the playoffs. So are Wenger and Sulo. And they are all eager to prove NCC deserved the No. 1 seed in their bracket.
“The last few years we’ve been talked up a lot, but we haven’t proven it in the playoffs,” said Sulo, a fifth-year senior and All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin second-team safety. “That’s our goal going into the playoffs this year.”
The Cardinals (10-0) begin their quest at noon Saturday against St. Norbert College (7-3) of DePere, Wis., at Benedetti-Wehrli Stadium in the teams’ first meeting.
While quarterback Brad Crackel continues to heal from a cracked rib, the rest of NCC’s 52-man playoff roster is healthy. In fact, the Cardinals are saying they’ve never entered the playoffs this healthy.
“You need as many healthy bodies as you can because you’re probably going to lose a few during the playoffs,” said John Thorne, the CCIW Coach of the Year. “The contact level will be fierce, the speed of the game will be faster. The chance for injury really accelerates.”
The Green Knights have faced only one other CCIW team in the past 70 seasons, losing to Augustana College in a first-round playoff game in 1999.
They earned an automatic bid by winning the Midwest Conference, and are making their first playoff appearance since 2007. It is their eighth trip in the past 12 seasons, but they’ve only won one postseason game.
That doesn’t mean the Cardinals are expecting an easy time of it. They don’t want to get caught looking ahead to a much-anticipated potential quarterfinal matchup against defending national champion University of Wisconsin at Whitewater.
The Cardinals’ own postseason record (3-4) is enough reason to stay motivated. NCC has never advanced beyond the second round.
“Everybody realizes that,” said Wenger, a fifth-year linebacker named CCIW Defensive Player of the Year for the second time. “For me personally, this is my fourth trip now and every year we’ve lost in the second round. We definitely want to get that monkey off our back.”