BLOOMINGTON — There is no game for Illinois Wesleyan's football team this week. Yet Jordan Hassan couldn't tell that during Tuesday's practice.
"At least since I've been here it was the best bye-week practice. It was intense and fun," said the Titans' senior linebacker. "We never had to stop and them (the coaches) tell us it's a bye week and pick it up."
Knowing what the stakes are in the regular-season finale against Millikin on Nov. 11 at Tucci Stadium undoubtedly contributed to what Hassan called "great energy."
"We control our own destiny and we know that," said IWU senior center Mike Mulcrone.
The Titans, ranked No. 11 in the D3football.com poll, are 8-1 overall and in first place in the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin with a 6-1 mark, a half-game ahead of North Central. The Cardinals face Carthage on Saturday.
"We're 60 minutes away from winning a championship and 60 minutes away from being selected for the NCAA Division III playoffs," said IWU coach Norm Eash. "That's the reality of it."
If North Central beats Carthage and then Elmhurst on Nov. 11, the Cardinals will receive the CCIW's automatic qualifying spot in the Division III playoffs. North Central handed IWU its lone defeat on Sept. 16.
IWU would be a virtual lock to get an at-large playoff berth if it shares the CCIW crown with North Central. The Titans haven't won the league title since 2009 or been to the playoffs since 2013.
"Everyone is giving me the sceniario, 'What if Carthage beats North Central?'" said Eash. "All we have to do is take care of ourselves and concentrate on what we have to do. We have to end up 9-1. We have one game left and it's against Millikin."
The Titans will practice Thursday at 6 a.m. before getting the rest of the week off until returning Sunday.
Eash, who will be going for his 200th victory as IWU coach against Millikin, said the circumstances this year have changed the bye week agenda. The Titans are focusing more on their next opponent this week than they have in the past.
"Our saying is it's not an off week; it's a bye week," said Eash. "There are two things we have to do — we have to prepare for Millikin and get better as a team, and also take a look at our young kids a little bit. We have to get them more involved and make sure we're paying attention to them a little bit."
Mending injuries: The weekend off will give the Titans time to heal up some bumps and bruises.
Mulcrone missed a game against Augustana three weeks ago with a shoulder ailment, but has played in the last three.
"I still get after it in practice," said Mulcrone. "How many more days do we have left of guaranteed football? I have the rest of my life for my shoulders."
Senior tight end Andrew Apel suffered a knee injury on Sept. 30 and has missed the last four games. Although not cleared by doctors yet, Apel could return against Millikin on Senior Day.
"We have a brace coming in. Hopefully he'll be able to do limited things," said Eash. "He's a senior captain and such a big part of the team. It would be nice to get him some reps on the field."
Take it on the run: After being held to five net rushing yards against Carthage on Oct. 21, the Titans got the running game in high gear last week. IWU ran for 217 yards in a 47-15 victory over Elmhurst.
"All the credit to the running backs. They ran their tails off," said Mulcrone. "We (the line) cover people up. We go over it through the week. We have the best people preparing us. They know what they're doing. All we have to do is go out and play hard. That's all it is."
Morgan Alexander led the rushing attack with 120 yards on 19 carries, giving him 890 yards for the season. Matese Scott, who has battled injuries most of the season, supplemented Alexander with a season-high 55 yards on five carries.
"He made some people miss and used his speed to make some plays for us," said Eash of Scott, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior. "He's bigger (than Alexander) and a different running back. He's a long strider."