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Carsten Andersen was an Illinois Wesleyan reserve freshman offensive lineman on the sidelines at Holmgren Athletic Complex in 2015. He didn't have to play to feel the Titans' pain.

"It was so disappointing and to see the seniors go out that year the way they did, it was brutal," said Andersen. "We don't want that to happen again. We have a lot to play for this week."

Indeed. 

IWU can clinch at least a share of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin championship by beating the Vikings to end the regular season at 1 p.m. in Chicago.

The No. 17-ranked Titans (7-2 overall) share the CCIW lead with North Central at 7-1 after the Cardinals beat IWU, 38-20, last week at Tucci Stadium.

North Central entertains Millikin on Saturday. The Cardinals would get the CCIW's automatic spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs with a victory while IWU would have to wait and see if it would receive an at-large berth when pairings are announced at 4:30 p.m. Sunday on ncaa.com.

IWU coach Norm Eash doesn't think Saturday will be his team's final game if they win. Eash believes the Titans can receive a playoff spot even with an 8-2 record.

But Eash wants the Titans to focus on something else after failing to secure an undisputed CCIW title last week.

"We've talked about defending the opportunity every game this season. Well, the opportunity is before us to win our 16th CCIW championship," he said. "All that stands in our way is 60 minutes at North Park and getting that win and realizing our goal of winning the conference title. It's sitting there for us."

Andersen said playoff talk has taken a backseat this week.

"None of that matters unless we go and take care of business on Saturday," he said. "It's out of our hands now and up to the (NCAA selection) committee. All we can do is take care of business on Saturday."

Andersen has taken care of his business this season. The senior from Palatine started the first game at right guard before being switched to right tackle for the next game against Wheaton.

While a hip injury that caused him to miss the 2016 season still bothers him, the 6-foot-3, 295-pound Andersen has put that aside and played every game this season.

"It made me a little nervous (going to tackle). I played it in high school a little, but it's different in college," said Andersen. "It was a little nerve-wracking. I feel I'm learning week to week. It's definitely been a challenge for me."

The Titans insist there's been no challenge getting up for North Park (2-7, 1-7) this week. The Vikings are coming off a 36-19 victory at Elmhurst last week for their first CCIW win of the season.

North Park sophomore quarterback Grant Borsch completed 22 of 35 attempts for 298 yards and four TDs while running for another score against Elmhurst. 

"They're peaking at the right time," said Eash. "Before Elmhurst they played Carthage at home and played very well and had Carthage down most of the game (before losing 33-20). They're playing their best football now."

While IWU knows it could make a statement to the NCAA selection committee, Eash is leery of going that route. 

"I hate teams that run up the score," he said. "We're approaching this that any chance we have to get to the NCAA playoffs, we have to have a convincing win. There are a lot of different ways to describe convincing — playing well, controlling the game. That's what we're focusing on more than anything."

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Contact Jim Benson at (309) 820-3404. Follow him on Twitter: @Pg_Benson

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Reporter

Reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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