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Nick Kukuc’s 250 rushing yards propel North Central into second round

Nick Kukuc ran for 250 yards North Central’s first-round D-III playoff victory. | North Central

Nick Kukuc ran for 250 yards in North Central’s first-round D-III playoff victory. | North Central

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Updated: December 24, 2012 7:12AM

North Central knew it was going to have to run the ball to be successful at No. 8 Cal Lutheran in the first round of the Division III football playoffs. It took all of two plays to see how things would go.

“The first play was a low snap, and we kind of bobbled it and had to take a knee on top of it,” Cardinals senior running back Nick Kukuc said. “But the second play, the way the linemen came off the ball, a giant hole opened up. I just bounced to make a guy miss, and 79 yards later I was in the end zone.”

That started the No. 14 Cardinals (9-2) on the way to a 41-21 triumph and into a second-round game Saturday at No. 3 Linfield (10-0) in McMinneville, Ore.
No. 17 Elmhurst (10-1), which tied North Central and Wheaton for first place in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, also advanced, squeezing past No. 10 Coe (10-1) 27-24 to reach a second-rounder Saturday at
No. 4 St. Thomas (10-0) in St. Paul, Minn. Northern Athletics Conference champion Concordia (10-1) had its unbeaten dream dashed as it was eliminated 24-23 by No. 21 Bethel (9-2).

One other area school remains alive in the postseason. No. 4 St. Xavier (10-1) opened its NAIA title defense with a 31-0 victory over No. 13 William Penn (9-3). It gets another home game Saturday against No. 7 Cumberlands (10-1).

For North Central, Kukuc ran for 250 yards — 10 short of the single-game school record set by Jeremy Walsh against Chicago in 2001 and tied three years later by Steve Holden against Augsburg.

A physical-education major, Kukuc has been selected to play in the National Bowl for small-college stars Dec. 9 in Allentown, Pa., if the Cardinals aren’t still playing. He eagerly anticipates a teaching career.

“I really want to affect and influence children who maybe are in my shoes, where in high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to play sports, I didn’t know if I wanted to go to college, I struggled with grades. Then I got the opportunity to play college football, and turned my academic life around. I don’t want people to have to struggle the way I did.”

Williams a finalist

Elmhurst running back Scottie Williams, who ran for 196 yards and a touchdown in the Bluejays’ victory over Coe, has been named one of 10 finalists for the Gagliardi Trophy. The trophy, awarded annually to the outstanding player in Division III, is named for former St. John’s (Minn.) coach John Gagliardi, whose 489 victories are the most in college football history.

Williams, a four-time all-CCIW pick, has run for 1,928 yards and 21 touchdowns, helping the Bluejays reach the Division III playoffs for the first time. He’s Elmhurst’s all-time leader in career rushing yards (5,085), rushing touchdowns (49) and points (326).

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