|Cal Lutheran came back to
knock Redlands down in October. The Bulldogs couldn't knock
Redlands out, however.
Photo by Joe Bergman for d3photography.com
By Jason Galleske
The NCAA committee could have easily scheduled Redlands against Cal Lutheran, SCIAC rivals, schools that are within 110 miles apart of each other in the first round of the playoffs.
Instead, the two teams will be sent packing as the league sent two schools to the playoffs for the first time.
Redlands will travel to fourth-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor in the opening round and eighth-ranked Cal Lutheran will travel to No. 5 Linfield Saturday.
"It's exciting to be in the playoffs, you don't get to choose who you play," Redlands coach Mike Maynard said. "It's really sort of a privilege to play against the very best in Division III. I think anyone would consider Mary Hardin-Baylor in the top three programs. They've always made a big name for themselves. Now we have a chance to see if we could stack up. It's an affirmation of the hard work we've done and now we get to play the best."
The Kingsmen weren't surprised they are making the familiar trip to McMinnville, Ore., and not too upset the committee didn't schedule the SCIAC rivals in the playoff opener.
"We were prepared to play anyone," Cal Lutheran coach Ben McEnroe said. "You can't really have a preference. I'm more pleased the NCAA didn't put the two teams against each other. I'm excited for the two (SCIAC) teams."
McEnroe said the beefing of up of the non-conference portion of the schedules is something that played a role in getting an SCIAC at large team. Cal Lutheran won the conference by coming back from a 24-0 deficit to stop Redlands on Oct. 1.
"It something coach Maynard and I talked about, upgrading non-conference schedules with teams with higher national profiles," McEnroe said. "We scheduled Willamette and Linfield and they scheduled North Central. This should open the door in the future."
Redlands had to sweat while waiting to see if they could get into the playoffs with one loss. Last season Redlands finished with an indentical 8-1 record and missed the playoff party. Even though they topped sixth-ranked North Central in the opening game this season, close victories over three teams with 4-5 records (Claremont-Mudd-Scripps La Verne and Chapman) may have prompted the committee to send the Bulldogs to Belton, Texas. Maynard, who has served on the committee at the regional and national level in the past, wasn't totally sure what the NCAA was thinking in regards to his team's playoff chances.
"We thought our chances were 50-50 either way to go or not go," Maynard said. "Half of the team thought we were going in, the other half didn't. We didn't play to our potential the last two weeks, which I thought hurt ourselves in terms of getting in. It wasn't like we had a dominating victory for quite a while. I didn't know what the NCAA committee would think. We just felt so many other teams were winning by big margins and we weren't able to win by a lot. Fortunately it worked out for us."
Maynard also said he was pleased that two of his conference schools made the playoffs, but is more concerned with his team than other variables.
"It's an opportunity," Maynard said. "I don't think of it in terms of conference, I don't think about that. I think about representing our university and our team. Just being in the playoff atmosphere is a tribute to our young team. It's just great life experiences for young people to get to be in playoff atmosphere, Texas football atmosphere."
Maynard said it'll be tough enough to concentrate on the Crusaders, much less other factors.
"We have to focus to try to be competitive with this bunch," he said. "They have a great reputation and what I have seen on film exceeds their reputation. They have no down spots on their team and they're great on defense. They're a very complete, well-coached team. That's what makes it so exciting and yet so stressful on us."
Redlands' conference brethren, the Kingsmen, won't have to worry about how to get to Linfield. Having been there four times in the last three years makes the travel pretty routine.
"It's a two-hour flight and an hour bus ride," McEnroe said. "We don't have to look on MapQuest anymore to find directions. We know where it is."
And he knew at some point in order to advance the road to advance would be through McMinnville anyway.
"In all honesty, we were going to play Linfield somewhere in the bracket," McEnroe said. "That part is not at all surprising. One thing you learn is you can't prognosticate, we try to not caught up in making projections or anything like that because we're usually wrong."