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North Central College Cardinals Work To Defend National Championship, And Finish With A Perfect Regular Season

NAPERVILLE, Ill. (CBS) -- The North Central College Cardinals football team is trying to defend an NCAA Division III national championship with a year off in between because of COVID-19.

So far so good – as they have clinched a playoff spot, and will try to finish off a perfect regular season on Friday.

As CBS 2's Matt Zahn reported Thursday night, the Cardinals are certainly an experienced bunch. Fourteen fifth-year seniors decided to use their extra year of eligibility and, as coach Jeff Thorne put it, make one more run at this.

But their high-octane offense – which is second in all of Division III in scoring 57 points a game - is led by a freshman quarterback, Luke Lehnen.

"He's been fantastic. You know, there's certainly areas where we can continue to improve - but Luke's a competitor. He's a great athlete He's an all-conference, all-region baseball player for us in the spring of 2021 for our baseball program here," Thorne said. "So we knew we had a really, really good athlete. We're continuing to work through being a great quarterback."

It's not hard to feel the energy this Cardinals squad has out on the practice field. The players say that starts with their head coach.

"That man lives for football," said senior defensive lineman Jamauri Spivery. "He steps on the field. He screams. He's like he's one of the players. He's like he's still got shoulder pads. We feed off that energy."

When asked if Thorne keeps it mostly cool, Spivery laughed and replied, "He does what he needs to get us through the day."

And that seems to have helped the team avoid any sense of complacency that can come after a team accomplishes their goal and wins it all.

"Our approach is continue to get better every day - whether you think you've arrived or not - and the day you think you've arrived is when the door gets slammed in your face," Thorne said.

The door certainly seems open for the Cardinals to make another title run.

The Cardinals will host North Park University for what will be an extra-special senior day, and they will be trying to extend the nation's longest winning streak to 21 games.

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