BLOOMINGTON — Illinois Wesleyan football coach Norm Eash was grateful the Titans didn't have to wait long to see their name Sunday during the NCAA Division III playoff selection show.
The Titan players cheered loudly when the second of the four eight-team brackets was unveiled and "Illinois Wesleyan" came up on the screen. There was even more excitement when the 11th-ranked Titans learned they would be home for a first-round game.
IWU (9-1) earned a No. 4 seed and entertains No. 5 Case Western Reserve (10-0) at noon Saturday at Tucci Stadium. Both teams were among seven at-large selections to the 32-team field.
"It's exciting to receive one of the at-large berths. I was 99 percent sure that we would receive one, but until you see it up on the board you're not sure," said IWU coach Norm Eash, whose team clinched a share of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin title with a 31-6 victory over Millikin on Saturday.
"I thought our strength of schedule put us at the very top of that at-large candidates. It was great to see the kids respond and react when it was up on the bracket."
This will be IWU's sixth appearance in the Division III playoffs and first since 2013. The Titans have a 3-5 overall record. They won in the first round in 1992, 1996 and 2009 while losing in 2011 and 2013.
IWU quarterback Brandon Bauer said it was "pretty special" when the Titans' name popped up during the team gathering at Shirk Center.
"I'm pretty hyped. I don't even know what to say. It's a dream come true, kind of," said Bauer. "It's going to be fun. Having a home game is very exciting. We didn't really know if we were going to get one or not. That's good for our fans. We're going to get ready this week to move on in the playoffs."
If IWU is victorious, a likely opponent in the second round on Nov. 25 would be one of the kings in Division III football.
Second-ranked Mount Union, which has won 12 national titles, is the No. 1 seed and meets Washington & Lee (8-2) in the first round.
"The next round is Mount Union and that's a place I've been to twice before," said Eash, recalling second-round playoff losses to the Purple Raiders in 1992 and 1996. "This football team understands anything is possible because of the teams (Wisconsin-Whitewater and Wheaton) we've beaten this year."
Case Western, which is located in Cleveland, will be making its fourth Division III playoff appearance and first since the 2009 season. The No. 16-ranked Spartans clinched a share of the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship with an 8-0 mark in league play after Saturday's 41-34 overtime victory over Carnegie Mellon.
Halfback Jacob Burke and quarterback Rob Cuda lead a Case Western offense averaging 43.5 points per game. Burke has gained 1,072 yards rushing and scored 17 touchdowns. Cuda has thrown for 2,510 yards and 28 TDs.
"We'll prepare like we always have," said Bauer. "That's how we got to where we are now."
North Central, which tied IWU for the CCIW title but got the league's automatic qualifying spot based on its win over the Titans, is a No. 3 seed in the Wisconsin-Oshkosh bracket and meets No. 6 St. John's (Minn.) on Saturday in Naperville.
Eureka College heads to Minnesota: As members of the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference, Eureka College has already made two trips to Minnesota this season.
So it should have come as no surprise to the Red Devils (8-2) when they found out they would be facing fourth-ranked St. Thomas (9-1) in a Division III first-round playoff game Saturday at St. Paul, Minn.
"We have a lot of familiar stops on the way up there, and that should help," said Eureka coach Kurt Barth. "The guys are used to (the trip). We'll try to keep things as close to normal as possible."
Eureka, which is making its first Division III playoff appearance after winning the UMAC with an 8-1 mark, is a No. 7 seed. St. Thomas is seeded second in the Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket.
"We thought it would be them (the Tommies) or Wartburg," said Barth. "We saw different projections of both. Coming into today, I thought it would be Wartburg."