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More news about: North Central (Ill.) | Wabash
C.J. Gum
In just nine games this season, Wabash linebacker CJ Gum has 77 total tackles, nine and a half of them for loss.
Wabash athletics photo by Howard Hewitt

By Jason Bailey
for D3sports.com

Nothing slows Wabash senior linebacker CJ Gum, certainly not a piece of yellow fabric.

And Gum responded ferociously after he was flagged for a late hit in the Little Giants’ 38-20 first-round playoff victory over Illinois College. He blew up one run in the backfield, stuffed another at the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble after chasing down a receiver on successive plays.

Gum doesn’t limit his big hits to ballcarriers, later accelerating to knock an offensive lineman on his butt. As the Wabash sideline exploded in cheers, he responded by pulling down his right hand through the brisk air like a conductor sounding a train whistle.

“The ‘Pain Train’ is something we joke about,” said Gum, who sported large swaths of eye black, a buzzed Mohawk and tribal tattoo on his right bicep. “It just has to do with being physical. We take pride in going out there and hitting people.”

There will be plenty of hitting Saturday when Wabash (11-0, 6-0 NCAC) hosts North Central (10-1, 7-1 CCIW) in a second-round battle of conference champions. The Little Giants are limiting opponents to 10.9 points and the Cardinals have allowed 11.1 points per game. Both shut down offenses averaging more than 40 points in the first round, with North Central routing Dubuque 59-13.

The North Central defense has rebounded after giving up 35 points in a season-opening loss to Redlands, allowing only 34 combined points in seven conference games. Head coach John Thorne said the team values its three shutouts, blocking a field goal against a winless North Park team to preserve the feat.

“It’s really, really fun for defensive guys when at the end of the game you can look up there and see an extremely low score or a big zero,” Thorne said. “They have to stay focused every single play because it only takes one play. You make one little mistake, and there can be a score.”

Wabash could be susceptible to mistakes with only three senior starters, but Gum fills an important leadership role — he fittingly stands on the bench during offensive possessions, allowing his teammates to look up to him. The two-time NCAC defensive player of the year directs on-field traffic before the snap, but often takes matters into his own hands. His team-leading 77 tackles are typically bone-crunching affairs.

Scout’s take

Wheaton head coach Mike Swider knows good defenses.

He sent two defensive players to the NFL, plays North Central annually and has regular preseason scrimmages against Wabash. Because the Thunder have lost to Mt. Union six times in the playoffs, it’s high praise for Swider to suggest North Central’s defense is nearing the Purple Power:

“They’ve got depth and they’ve got speed. Every single kid on the team can run. … Here’s the biggest thing that you’ve got to do. You cannot get penalized, because once you get in long yardage, it’s over. So you’ve got to be good on first down, and that’s the critical, critical down. Once they get you in any bad situation, they just overwhelm you. … Those three defensive linemen — (Valente) Garza, (Willie) Hayes and (Peter) Bulandr — they’re fast, they get up field. They’ve got depth. They’re all good, and they all can run. They play with an edge. … They’ve got a good shot [in the playoffs]. When you can play defense and special teams, you’ve got a shot to beat anybody. And that’s what they do. … In our conference, they’ve dominated this year like few have ever dominated.”

The Little Giants rally around those big hits and the “Pain Train” moniker adapted from Reebok commercials showcasing Terry Tate, the office linebacker. In the playoff opener, freshman linebacker Cody Buresh’s blast injured a wide receiver, freshman cornerback Houston Hodges broke up a third-down pass and junior safety Jonathon Koop delivered a punishing blow that drew a questionable penalty for launching.

“We’re playing fast and hitting people,” said Wabash defensive coordinator BJ Hammer, a former Little Giant defensive lineman himself. “I’ll never tell our guys to slow down, but of course we say to play smart.”

North Central boasts speed at every defensive position, substituting liberally to keep players fresh and aggressive when they re-enter the game. Eight players have at least two interceptions and four players have at least 5.5 sacks on a unit that doesn’t rely on a star player. Seven starters were named to the all-CCIW first team — including senior defensive tackle Peter Bulandr, the conference’s defensive player of the year and a Gagliardi Trophy finalist — and two made the second team.

“Last year it was easy to gameplan against us because there was one standout player, [linebacker] Matt Wenger, who was our Superman,” Bulandr said. “Our defense now has 11 Supermen. It’s impossible to gameplan for all 11 of us.”

Both teams realize winning the battles of field position, penalties and turnovers will become even more important in Saturday’s game, where the wind might play a factor.

If points are at a premium, it wouldn’t be surprising if the outcome swings on a return touchdown. The Little Giants have blocked eight kicks, returning two punts for touchdowns, and senior wide receiver Wes Chamblee has scored on three punts and one kickoff. North Central tied the Division III record by scoring on six interception returns.

“That’s the beauty of playing defense,” Bulandr said. “We have the ability to score and to prevent the other team from scoring. We love knowing that we control our own destiny.”

Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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at Framingham State 29, Westfield State 14
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Moravian 20, at Juniata 17
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at Salve Regina 41, Endicott 14
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at Thomas More 63, St. Vincent 13
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at Union 28, Hobart 23
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at Hamilton 27, Colby 24
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at Christopher Newport 27, William Paterson 19
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at Ithaca 35, St. John Fisher 10
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at Allegheny 44, Kenyon 35
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SUNY-Maritime 21, at Mount Ida 13
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Middlebury 43, at Bates 14
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at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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at Amherst 21, Wesleyan 17
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at Trinity (Conn.) 63, Bowdoin 14
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Husson 48, at Gallaudet 21
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Wabash 35, at Oberlin 21
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at Utica 34, Buffalo State 12
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Ohio Northern 7, at Muskingum 6
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at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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at Stevenson 26, Albright 23
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Albion 31, Alma 28
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at Guilford 45, Shenandoah 20
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Plymouth State 40, at Massachusetts Maritime 14
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Wooster 58, at Hiram 25
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Washington and Lee 36, at Hampden-Sydney 6
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at Anna Maria 36, Alfred State 34
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Bridgewater 31, at Emory and Henry 23
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at FDU-Florham 49, Wilkes 31
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Lebanon Valley 17, at Misericordia 0
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at St. Lawrence 36, Rochester 14
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RPI 30, at Alfred 15
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at Curry 46, Nichols 16
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at Salisbury 42, Southern Virginia 0
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Ferrum 27, at Brevard 24
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Randolph-Macon 63, at Apprentice 14
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at Susquehanna 21, Ursinus 14
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Cortland 34, at Morrisville State 20
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at Trine 50, Hope 14
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Trinity (Texas) 27, at Sewanee 21
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Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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at Franklin and Marshall 56, Dickinson 0
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Tufts 21, at Williams 13
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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MIT 30, at Coast Guard 21
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at Norwich 24, Maine Maritime 22
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Franklin 29, at Rose-Hulman 22
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John Carroll 48, at Capital 21
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at Manchester 28, Bluffton 21
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Mount St. Joseph 71, at Anderson 27
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UW-Whitewater 20, at UW-River Falls 7
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Kean 26, at TCNJ 3
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at LaGrange 59, Greensboro 10
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at Worcester State 45, Mass-Dartmouth 40
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Muhlenberg 40, at McDaniel 13
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Western New England 45, at Becker 0
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at Maryville (Tenn.) 35, Methodist 14
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Adrian 36, at Kalamazoo 22
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Denison 31, at Ohio Wesleyan 20
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at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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at Benedictine 43, Olivet 37
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Birmingham-Southern 31, at Austin 24
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at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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at UW-Stout 23, UW-Stevens Point 17
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Eureka 37, at MacMurray 20
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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Nebraska Wesleyan 14, at Buena Vista 13
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Lakeland 48, at Wisconsin Lutheran 0
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at Aurora 28, Rockford 21
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at Concordia-Chicago 37, Concordia (Wis.) 17
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at St. Olaf 29, Carleton 26
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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Westminster (Mo.) 24, at Greenville 14
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at Loras 44, Coe 38
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Monmouth 61, at Cornell 10
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Wheaton (Ill.) 56, at North Park 0
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Northwestern (Minn.) 30, at Martin Luther 14
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Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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at Lake Forest 70, Grinnell 6
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at Millikin 56, Carroll 35
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at Macalester 47, Ripon 31
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at St. Norbert 38, Lawrence 6
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St. Scholastica 49, at Crown 21
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at Iowa Wesleyan 24, Minnesota-Morris 17
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UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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at WPI 41, Merchant Marine 7
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at Centre 42, Rhodes 35
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Hanover 49, at Earlham 14
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at Chicago 55, Beloit 12
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UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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at Dubuque 28, Simpson 27
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at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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at East Texas Baptist 68, Louisiana College 35
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at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Western Connecticut 27, at Bridgewater State 20
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Chapman 38, at La Verne 21
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Pacific 17, at Lewis and Clark 7
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Pacific Lutheran 27, at Willamette 14
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at Whitworth 38, Puget Sound 23
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Redlands 42, at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps 25
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at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Sul Ross State 52, at Howard Payne 15
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at Castleton 17, Dean 14
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N.C. Wesleyan 21, at Averett 15
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at Otterbein 37, Baldwin Wallace 29
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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Carnegie Mellon 42, at Thiel 10
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at Illinois College 23, Knox 13
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at Cal Lutheran 60, Whittier 34
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Occidental at Pomona-Pitzer
Oct. 20: All times Eastern
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at Johns Hopkins 52, Gettysburg 0
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Oct. 21: All times Eastern
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at Wesley 34, Rowan 3
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at Frostburg State 62, Montclair State 3
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Wittenberg 52, at DePauw 6
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at Springfield 68, Catholic 20
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Final
Wartburg 41, at Luther 16
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Mount Union 66, at Wilmington 7
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at Marietta 44, Heidelberg 21
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Final - OT
at Washington and Jefferson 34, Westminster (Pa.) 33
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Hardin-Simmons 33, at Texas Lutheran 30
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Final
at Mary Hardin-Baylor 45, Belhaven 7
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St. Thomas 84, at Hamline 0
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at St. John's 41, Gustavus Adolphus 17
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at Illinois Wesleyan 13, Carthage 10
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at Concordia-Moorhead 42, Augsburg 20
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Final
Berry 37, at Millsaps 22
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Final
UW-Platteville 34, at UW-Eau Claire 14
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Final
UW-Oshkosh 42, at UW-La Crosse 28
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Final
at North Central (Ill.) 54, Augustana 2
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Final
at Brockport 45, Hartwick 0
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Final
at Linfield 12, George Fox 6
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Case Western Reserve 45, at Geneva 7
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