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SMALL COLLEGES: Titanic clash: N. Central offense vs. IWU defense

Not that sixth-ranked North Central needed an alert, but Illinois Wesleyan's defense dropped a reminder that the Cardinals (6-0, 3-0) would be wise to block out the distractions of homecoming this week as they prepare to host the 25th-ranked Titans (5-1, 2-1) in Naperville on Saturday. First place in the CCIW will be on the line.

The Illinois Wesleyan defense, led by hard-hitting junior linebacker Ryan Gresko, held Elmhurst running back Scottie Williams to 40 yards on 14 carries in a 30-26 victory last week. Williams is sixth in Division III rushing with 139.5 yards per game.

Next up is North Central and an offense that ranks 20th in the nation, first in the conference. The Cardinals, no doubt honked off about a 28-22 loss in overtime last year, are practicing with a ''remember the Titans'' theme this week. The schools tied for the conference championship but the Titans got the automatic playoff qualifier.

Gresko (Downers Grove North) was the team's fourth linebacker last season, but Titans coach Norm Eash mentions him in the same breath with North Central's Matt Wenger and Elmhurst's Randy Wright (Fenwick), the CCIW's best linebackers. Gresko was the best in the league last week, earning Defensive Player of the Week honors after making seven tackles against Elmhurst, including five solos and a quarterback sack. He also broke a pass.

''He is a very intelligent, cerebral player but he plays like a blue-collar player,'' Eash said. ''He's physical and intense. Some of the [hits] he has made have been amazing.'''

Kickoff is 2 p.m.

?Wheaton's defense scored three touchdowns in the first half, including two by lineman JD East en route to a 52-7 win against North Park (2-4, 0-3). Wheaton (6-0, 3-0) led 45-0 in the second quarter. The 16th-ranked Thunder hosts Carthage (4-2, 1-2) on Saturday at 6 p.m.

?Saint Xavier (8-0, 5-0 Mid-States Football Association) racked up 45 points or more for the eighth time in as many games, scoring 34 unanswered in a 55-16 rout at Malone (Ohio). A different offensive star seemingly shines each week for the Cougars, who got 98 yards and three touchdowns on nine carries from Donnie Selby (Shepard). NAIA's third-ranked Cougars play at Iowa Wesleyan (3-5, 3-2) on Saturday.

?Four of volleyball's top 10 Division III blockers are linked to the area: Elmhurst freshman Megan Reynolds (Marian Catholic), Wheaton freshman Emily Buyse, Calvin (Mich.) junior Rebecca Kamp (Chicago Christian) and Carthage junior Jordan Burkholder (Rockford Christian Life). MacMurray sophomore Taylor Soat of Galena, Ill., ranks second with 1.55 blocks per set.