By: Mark Reinhiller
A championship game figured to have a championship moment. And this one belonged to the College of DuPage Chaparrals, who are the inaugural National Junior College Athletic Association Division III football champions.
Freshman wide receiver Matthew Brown broke free from his wide-out position with 21 seconds left in the game, and quarterback Brooks Blount connected on a 33-yard touchdown pass for a come-from-behind 34-29 title victory over Nassau (N.Y.) Community College before a crowd of 2,500 on a brisk December afternoon at COD’s Bjarne Ullsvik Stadium.
“I guess it is the biggest play of my life,’’ said Brown, an Aurora native who earned the game’s most valuable player honors for his only catch of the day. “There was no way I wasn’t going to score. I even extended my hands to break the plane so it would count.’’
The Chaps survived against the visiting Lions, who overcame a 21-point deficit with 22 unanswered points in the second half, eventually grabbing the lead with 40 seconds left on Joshua Arevalo’s 28-yard field goal for a 29-28 lead.
Chaps head coach and national coach of the year Matthew Rahn said that with 40 seconds left and one time out remaining, the game may have seemed dire, but his team was prepared for one last successful final drive.
“In all probability, we’re looking to get in range for a field goal attempt,’’ he said. “We had the time and a time out to make something happen.’’
After Nassau’s successful field goal, the Chaps’ Jessi Plunkett took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 18 yards to the COD 44.
On first down, Blount scrambled and went up the middle for an eight-yard gain. A personal foul was called on a late hit, and that moved the Chaps 15 yards closer to the Nassau 33.
After an incomplete pass, the game-winning play called for a mesh pattern, where Brown lined up on the right side with teammate Chase Mendoza to his immediate left.
“I thought Chase set a great pick, and I was able to run and get open on a seam route to the inside,’’ Brown said.
“Matthew was the primary receiver on the play,’’ Blount said. “I saw that he had maybe a step-and-a-half on the d-back and that was enough to get the pass to him.’’
And just like that, the Chaps drove three plays in just 13 seconds and held on to secure the first national championship for the sport in school history.
The Chaps (9-2 overall) were in command throughout the first half, leading 14-0 thanks to a one-yard touchdown from Tom Trieb in the opening quarter, and a 76-yard scamper from Darrell Smith with 48 seconds before halftime.
The Chaps padded the lead to 21-0 on a Blount five-yard pass to tight end Jack Dorsey early in the third quarter.
And after Nassau scored its first touchdown of the game, a 16-yard pass from Michael Batton to John Beaubrun, the Chaps regained momentum when sophomore Lazerick Eatman returned the ensuing kickoff 94 yards and COD led 28-7 with 9:43 left in the third quarter.
It seemed as if Green and Silver were in complete control.
The Lions, however, scored three straight touchdowns — two from the arm and one on the ground from quarterback Michael Batton — to pull within two points at 28-26 when Ka’Shaun Parrish caught a 35-yard touchdown with 6:21 left in the game.
Smith led the Chaps in rushing with 170 yards on 21 carries. Blount was 17-of-27 for 130 yards, two touchdowns and was sacked four times.
Mendoza led in receiving with four receptions for 53 yards.
Defensively, Chase Graham and Danarius Shaw led with eight tackles. Nicholas Wade had the Chaps’ only interception, a grab to conclude the final play of the game.
That this championship marks COD’s first in the sport wasn’t lost on Rahn, who is an alum.
“I talk with alumni who were here in the 90s, and those who played afterward,’’ he said. “And it really is a program built on giving kids a platform to perform, improve their skills and have success.
“This is a title that can be shared with and for so many.’’
Nassau finished the season 6-4. Batton was 13 of 24 for 205 yards passing with three touchdowns, and rushed for 72 yards on 12 carries.
The Chaps closed the season on a six-game winning streak, all coming after losing at Nassau 17-15 on Oct. 16.
Chaps and Nassau
This was the second time the two teams met in the postseason. Nassau defeated the Chaps 19-0 in the 1992 Midwest Bowl played in Naperville.
COD National Championships
The championship is COD’s 35th in school history. The others are: men — basketball (2002), soccer (1993), golf (1996, 1997, 1998), hockey (1980, 1988, 1990), tennis (1997, 1998, 2003, 2004, 2005) and Track & Field (2002, 2003, 2006, 2010, 2021). Women’s title-winning teams are: basketball (2000, 2002), softball (1998, 2000, 2001, 2004), tennis (2007, 2008, 2010), track & field (2000, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2021) and volleyball (1998, 1999).