Cal Lutheran Draws Familiar Foe in NCAA Tournament First Round Matchup
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. - It's déjà vu times two for the Cal Lutheran football team. For the third consecutive year, the Kingsmen will be on the road playing Linfield in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Eighth-ranked CLU (8-1) will face No. 5 Linfield (9-0) on Saturday at noon at Maxwell Field in McMinnville, Ore. The winner will play either Hobart (N.Y.) or Wesley (Del.).
"I knew that we would eventually go through McMinnville, Oregon at some point," CLU head coach Ben McEnroe said. "It's become like our home away from home. They are a great program and we are very familiar with each other. I think this is the best team we've had with the best chance to compete up there."
The meeting between CLU and Linfield will be the fifth in the last three seasons.
Linfield, the three-time Northwest Conference champion, has beaten CLU, the three-time Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference champion, in the first round of the playoffs in 2009 and 2010.
CLU's only loss this season came to Linfield in the season opener in Oregon. The Wildcats defeated the Kingsmen 24-14.
CLU was hoping for a chance to host a first-round playoff game in its new stadium.
Some speculated if Redlands received an at-large berth out of the SCIAC, CLU could have hosted the Bulldogs at William Rolland Stadium.
But even though Redlands earned a playoff spot, the NCAA sent the Bulldogs to play Mary Hardin-Baylor in Texas.
"I was a little surprised when I saw that," McEnroe said. "But once I saw we weren't paired with each other, I knew we were on our way to Linfield."
The Kingsmen gathered in Richter Hall on campus to watch the pairings released on the big screen.
When Redlands was matched with Mary Hardin-Baylor, 'Ooohhhhs' filled the room.
As soon as the Kingsmen saw Linfield pop on the screen, they prepared to see their name occupy the bottom line.
Once it actually happened, there was sporadic clapping and even a few chuckles.
"We have an opportunity to avenge our only loss of the season, so we are excited about that," said CLU junior wide receiver Eric Rogers, who had a single-game program record 216 receiving yards in last season's playoff loss to Linfield. "I feel like we could have won that game. We had a lot of mistakes in the first game. But it's familiar surroundings and we know where the locker rooms are and what the routine is going to be, so it should be fun."
Although McEnroe knows his players wanted a chance to play at home, he quickly turned the playoff outcome into a positive.
"What I like about this is we know what we are getting into," McEnroe told them. "We have a chance to make up our only blemish and should embrace that. We can beat anyone in the country, anywhere in any conditions right now. We have an opportunity to run this thing."