Itasca, Chaparrals meet in fourth annual Red Grange Bowl
A newcomer and a postseason regular will clash in the fourth annual Red Grange Bowl.
Itasca Community College of Grand Rapids, Minn., will make its bowl game debut Saturday, Dec. 7 when the Vikings take on the host College of DuPage Chaparrals in the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) football game exclusively dedicated to non-scholarship programs.
Kickoff is 1 p.m. at Bjarne Ullsvik Stadium, located on COD’s Glen Ellyn campus, 425 Fawell Blvd.
The Vikings (8-3 overall) bring a sound offensive attack that features the quarterback duo of Brandon Hokkanen and Javon McInnis. The two have combined to throw for more than 2,500 yards and 28 TDs. Wide receiver Antwan Downs has hauled in 15 TDs and more than 1,000 yards through the air.
Sophomore running back Joshua Booker leads the NJCAA in rushing touchdowns with 19 after scoring three TDs in the Vikings’ 47-19 loss to Central Lakes in the Minnesota College Athletic Conference title game Sunday.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings are first in the nation in fumbles recovered (25), and second in both interceptions (21) and sacks (55).
“We are extremely honored and excited to be part of the Red Grange Bowl game and all of the related events,’’ said third-year head coach Weldon Braxton. “This is a historical moment for our college as it is the first ever bowl appearance in Itasca CC history. Our kids have performed on a high level throughout the season. Team-wise and individually, we have performed among the best teams in the country if you look at the numbers.’’
After opening the season 1-3, the Chaparrals have won six of their last seven games and bring a 7-4 record into the postseason. They will make their 22nd all-time bowl appearance and the game marks their third time as host of the Red Grange Bowl.
The Chaps feature a spread-the-wealth offense with quarterback Brayden Miller. The Lexington, Ky., native has thrown for nearly 900 yards in nine games with 10 TDs. His personal-best effort came against Ellsworth that featured five TD passes and 296 yards on 16-of-25 attempts that included a 32-yard Hail Mary TD pass to Jayvon Blissett as time expired in a 39-35 victory on Sept. 28.
Four wide receivers — Lazerick Eatman, Jaden Lacy, Jordan Robertson and Luke Junkroski — have totaled at least 200 yards, while running back Isaiah Nwokenkwo is the leading rusher with 630 yards and six TDs. He averages 9.4 yards a carry.
The Chaps lead the NJCAA in rushing yards/attempt (7.4).
Linebacker Nathan Clark is the Chaps’ leading tackler with 41 solos and 44 assists. Defensive back Alaric Wooten is among the nation’s top aerial thieves with six interceptions. Lineman Christian Wills has five sacks.
“It’s a tremendous honor to be a part of postseason play at any level, and for us to play in the Red Grange Bowl is a great testament to the kids and the coaching staff,’’ Chaparrals head coach Matt Foster said. “We’re proud to represent College of DuPage in the postseason. Our team has stepped it up after our slow start. We had a young team at the beginning of the season and went through some growing pains. They’ve responded very well and I’m really proud of our team and our staff at what they have shown.’’
The game is played in honor of the late Red Grange, one of football's all-time greats and arguably the game's greatest all-time offensive player. The Wheaton native, nicknamed the "Galloping Ghost" and the "Wheaton Iceman", is a charter member of both the Pro (1963) and College (1951) Football Halls of Fame. His single-greatest feat remains almost fantasy — scoring four touchdowns in the opening 12 minutes vs. Michigan in the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium dedication game on Oct. 18, 1924. All told in that game, he was responsible for six TDs against the Wolverines and totaled 409 yards.
Grange went on to earn three All-American honors at Illinois and became the first major signing by Chicago Bears owner and head coach George Halas. Later that year, Halas took Grange and the Bears on a coast-to-coast tour in which the club played 16 games in nine weeks. That effort is thought to have saved the National Football League and fortified Grange as a household name in America, among the likes of such legends as Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey.
The Dec. 7 game will feature the 2019 recipient of the Red Grange Award, given since the 1970s to a local athlete exemplary on the field and in the classroom. Additionally, all proceeds from the game will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana, where College of DuPage football players regularly give their time each season to assist staff and clients.
Tickets to the game are $5. Tickets for the banquet, set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the DoubleTree Lisle, are $25. Tickets are for sale (cash only) at the point of entry at each event.
The Red Grange Bowl is made possible in part with support from the Illinois National Guard, Evviva Restaurant, DoubleTree Lisle, Packey Webb Ford, Ellyn’s Tap & Grill, Glen Ellyn Walmart Supercenter, Riddell, Sports Decals, Field Turf and BSN Sports.
College of DuPage is a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association, National Junior College Athletic Association Region IVand North Central Community College Conference (N4C). The College’s Athletics programoffers nine men’s and eight women’s sports teams each year, including outdoor track and field, indoor track and field, cross country, football, volleyball, golf, basketball, tennis, baseball, softball and soccer. All home games are played on the Glen Ellyn campus, 425 Fawell Blvd., and are free and open to the public.
Bowl Notes: COD is 2-0 all-time in the Red Grange Bowl, winning the inaugural title game in 2016 against Central Lakes 25-22 OT and in 2017 versus Mesabi Range College, 35-0 … Itasca is the fourth MCAC school to make the trek to Glen Ellyn, joining Central Lakes, Mesabi Range and Northland Community & Technical College (2018) … Both teams enter the game unranked but each received votes in Monday’s top-20 poll.