The College of DuPage entered Saturday’s NJCAA Division III Football Championship at the Red Grange Bowl as the No. 2 seed.
However, the Chaparrals had a few things going their way and weren’t necessarily the underdog.
Playing at home as the defending national champion, the Chaps utilized a defensive effort that won out over North Dakota State College of Science (NDSCS) in a 14-12 victory and earned the national championship for a second straight year at Bjarne Ullsvik Stadium.
The Chaps, who were led by Most Valuable Player Byron Puryear’s seven solo tackles, overcame obstacles on the offensive end, and then milked the clock on their last possession to earn the title.
“On a day where our offense had some self-inflicted wounds with turnovers, our defense didn’t break,’’ said Head Coach Matthew Rahn. “We’ve worked very hard at finding kids who play for each other and work together. That’s not an easy thing when we’re in age of the game where people play only for themselves. I just can’t say enough about how we hung in there and created success.’’
COD’s drive that began with 9:04 left encapsulates how the day was played and how the Chaps won. Clinging to a two-point lead, COD ate up six-plus minutes on a nine-play drive that brought them to the Wildcats’ 32 on a fourth-and-25 play.
Quarterback Gavin Sukup was in shotgun formation and pooch-punted the ball 17 yards that gave NDSCS the ball at its 15 with 2:59 left.
On the Wildcats’ first play, quarterback Graedyn Buell found wide receiver Brady Borgen for 20 yards, but free safety Nick Bucaro delivered a fumble-forcing hit that was collected by Jeremy Gelino at the 35.
That set up COD’s final drive, one where taking time off the clock was more critical than yards gained. The Chaps took over with 2:50 left and held on until just seven seconds were left when they turned the ball over on downs.
Puryear capped his stellar afternoon on the game’s final play, chasing down Buell for a 10-yard sack that brought pandemonium onto the field after the final horn sounded.
“It means so much to come to College of DuPage and play for a ring,’’ Puryear said. “This season has been everything that I could hope for. I had the offer to play here, and yeah, my teammates liked to give me a hard time by showing off their title rings. Now I’m going to get one, too.’’
Rahn said, “Puryear stood out all season long and today showed his ability on the big stage.
“No one could block him today, or for the season,’’ he said. “He plays with such high energy with high production.’’
COD grabbed a 7-0 lead late in the first quarter when Sukup connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Marquel Porter with 1:51 left in opener.
COD’s defense didn’t allow a first down through NDSCS’s first three possessions, and eventually got into the game on a trick play, thanks to a skip pass from Dylan Jorgenson, who lined up at quarterback. He sent the ball to Buell, who was lined up in the slot and delivered a 63-yard touchdown strike to wide reciever Marselio Mendez.
The PAT failed and COD then led 7-6 at halftime.
COD didn’t waste much time once the second half began in building a lead. Defensive back Kam Gothard’s hit on running back Chandler Ross Jr. popped the ball up on the Wildcats’ second play of the third quarter, and teammate Ja’Shawn Braswell recovered the ball at the NDSCS 34.
COD then drove 34 yards on six plays with Randy Young capping the drive with a 15-yard touchdown with 11:19 left and 14-6 lead.
Buell ended the scoring on the day with a 17-yard run with 13:41 left in the contest.
The Chaps gained 305 yards of total offense and allowed just 258.
Sukup finished 15 of 26 passing for 138 passing yards. Young led COD in rushing with 66 yards on 13 carries.
The victory ends a remarkable month for the Chaps’ athletic program with its third NJCAA championship in 30 days. The men’s cross-country team won on Nov. 5 and the women’s volleyball team won its title on Nov. 12.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,’’ said director of athletics Ryan Kaiser. “I think our coaches have bought in the culture that we’ve developed and their support for one another is unprecedented. Every single one of our head coaches was in attendance supporting their peer. It wasn’t a requirement today and they weren’t told to be here. They chose to be here and it doesn’t get any better than that.’’
The championship is COD’s 40th in school history and its eighth since May 2021 — four men’s and women’s track and field titles, two football titles and the two won last month.
|Sports Information Coordinator|
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