It was the final year for the Stagg Bowl in Shenandoah Texas, a nice town north of Houston TX. The place was Woodforest Bank Stadium and it was for the D III Football National Championship. The teams involved were perennial D3 powerhouse, the Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks and championship newcomer, the North Central College Cardinals out of Naperville Il.
Neither of these teams had an automatic bid and had to settle for at-large bids to the playoffs. Both teams had huge wins to get here. UWW beat defending national champs, Mary Hardin-Baylor 26-7 while NCC beat last year’s runner-up, Mount Union 59-52 in the second round. It’s the third time these two teams have met with the last meeting being a 20-10 Warhawks win in the 2010 quarterfinals.
For the Warhawks, the plan was simple. Keep the Cardinals offense at bay by holding down Gagliardi Trophy finalist, Broc Rutter and stopping their potent running game led by sophomore running back, Ethan Greenfield.
The Cardinals had to overcome first-time jitters and a tradition built by the Warhawks who were making their 10th appearance in the Stagg Bowl. They appeared to do just that coming out of the tunnel for the start of the game. The team was hyped up and you could feel the confidence they had built during a great season.
It carried over to the opening kickoff when Terrence Hill burst through the Warhawks coverage for a 49-yard return to set up the Cardinals at the UWW 45. From there, it didn’t take long as the Cardinals moved 45 yards in seven plays. The drive was capped off by the game’s Most Outstanding Player, Ethan Greenfield, as he went in from five yards to make it 6-0. The extra point snap was bobbled and the PAT was unsuccessful.
In the meantime, UWW could not muster any offense and they did not get any help from a very aggressive NCC defense. After a fourth and one extended the drive, UWW turned the ball back over on a punt and NCC went right to work.
Cardinals QB, Broc Rutter, had one of the great seasons in D3 and he kept it going in this game. He had plenty of help from his offensive line. Just ask Greenfield who gave all the credit to them when presented with his award. On their fourth drive of the first quarter, the Cardinals struck again. On first and 10 from their own 41, Rutter hit Andrew Kamienski for 28 yards and then followed that with a 31-yard strike to Blake Williams to make it 13-0 NCC. That would be the score at the end of the quarter, but it would not be the story. The story, one that would play throughout the game, was the speed of play from the North Central offense and defense.
On the NCC side of the ball, it was Rutter, Greenfield, and the offensive line that continued to dominate. Rutter would find plenty of time to throw the football and Greenfield would find all the holes he would need. A Rutter one-yard scamper to go along with a two-yarder from Greenfield would send the teams into the locker for half with NCC up 27-0.
I cannot imagine what was going through the minds of UWW in that locker room. Here was a team that had built a tradition as a D3 powerhouse being completely outplayed in all phases of the game. They could not keep up defensively and could not threaten offensively. If they were going to make this a game, they would have to come up with the perfect gameplan for the last two quarters.
Then, lightning struck to begin the second half when UWW took over at their own 26. QB, Max Meylor handed the ball off to RB, Alex Peete, and he blew through the NCC line for a 47-yard gain down to the NCC 27. FoR the first time in the game, the UWW fans were on their feet cheering loudly. The cheering and excitement would be short-lived as not only did the Warhawks fail to put the ball in the end zone, they missed a 33-yard field goal and could not get any points. As I looked at the UWW sideline, you could see this was one of those deflating moments a football team goes through. An opportunity, not to just get on the scoreboard, but one that could have given the team momentum had just been squandered.
To make matters worse, NCC would take full advantage of the chance they were just given. They drove 80 yards in nine plays and this time it was Greenfield again. He would shoot out of the line into the second level and hit paydirt from 38 yards out to make it 34-0 NCC. It was at this point I told myself, we are watching a 10-time finalist for the D 3 title get their butts handed to them. It was a sight to behold seeing this NCC team just shred this powerhouse.
The Warhawks would finally get on the scoreboard with 4:52 left in the third when Meylor hit Jared Zausch from 12 yards out to make it 34-7. They would make it 34-14 in the fourth when Peete ran it in from the one. Before that play, UWW fumbled the ball and it was scooped up by Sr, CB, Jalon Edmondson. He ran it back 99 yards to put the game away, but the play was called back for offsides on North Central.
UWW would try the onside kick on the ensuing kickoff and recover it at the 50. On first and ten at the NCC 30, Meylor dropped back to pass but was picked off by Julian Bell to end any possible threat or comeback by the Warhawks. NCC would put the final nail in the coffin when Rutter hit Kamienski for 28 yards to make it 41-14.
From there, UWW ran out the clock on a couple of plays and the celebration began. It was the first football title in the history of the program for NCC and they did it with a dominating overall performance. As mentioned earlier, the speed of play that North Central displayed was just too much for UWW. The Cardinal’s offensive and defensive lines were on point the entire game. Meylor really never had time to set up and throw the football while Rutter had all the time and space he would need.
North Central- Greenfield would finish with 138 yards on 27 carries and three touchdowns. Rutter was 18-27 for 263 yards and two scores. Kamienski had nine catches for 134 yards and his touchdown catch of 28 yards.
Wisconsin-Whitewater- Meylor would go 25-42 for 183 yards, a touchdown pass to go along with 15 carries for 104 yards rushing. Peete would add 79 yards on 17 carries with his one score.
As I said to begin this article, this is the final year for this game in Shenandoah, TX. Next year, the game moves to Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on the grounds of the NFL Hall of Fame. It was a great two years here in Texas and NGSC Sports was honored to be a part of it.