PELLA—The NCAA Division III football playoffs are returning to Central College.
The 9-1 Dutch will take on the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (8-2) Saturday at noon at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium.
The 32-team playoff field was revealed late Sunday afternoon.
It’s Central’s 21st NCAA playoff appearance, its first since 2009, when the Dutch also hosted. It’s the fifth berth under coach Jeff McMartin. Now in his 16th season, McMartin previously led Central to berths in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009, compiling a 2-4 record in those games.
Central received an automatic berth to the field after sharing the American Rivers Conference title and winning its head-to-head match-up with co-champion Wartburg College. The Knights (9-1) also made the field and will travel to Hope College in Holland, Michigan Saturday. There are 27 conferences with automatic-qualifying berths and five at-large selections chosen by the Division III Football Committee.
Wisconsin-Oshkosh vaulted into the playoff picture by knocking off powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater Saturday 27-20. The teams shared the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown. Wisconsin-Whitewater is also in the NCAA field, playing host to Monmouth College (Ill.). Wisconsin-Oshkosh is in the field for the fifth time and the first time since 2017. The Titans have a 12-4 playoff record and finished second nationally in 2016.
Saturday’s winner will advance to meet the winner of a contest at Wheaton, Illinois between Wheaton College (Ill.) and Martin Luther College (Minn.).
It’s a difficult draw but McMartin wasn’t anticipating an easy one.
“There are so many good teams in the bracket,” he said. “You never can predict. The committee has a lot of criteria and a lot of different factors to look at. When you find out who you’re playing you know it’s going to be somebody really good.”
Central played a four-game series with Wisconsin-Oshkosh between 2010-13, with the Dutch going 1-3. Those are the teams’ only previous meetings.
“When we’ve played them before they’ve been very versatile offensively and play very tough defense,” McMartin said. “For them to win the way that they did against Wisconsin-Whitewater is impressive. They’ve beat some great teams and it’s going to be a great challenge.”
McMartin said the Dutch need to approach this as a regular game week.
“The key for us is go out and have a normal Monday and do what we normally do, which is prepare, watch film, get to know our opponent and also learn from what we did on Saturday. Those are the things we have to control and we will.”
Central has the fourth-highest number of appearances in Division III history, trailing only the University of Mount Union (Ohio) (30 years), Washington & Jefferson College (Pa.) (26 years) and Saint John’s University (Minn.) (25 years). The Dutch have a 21-19 playoff record, winning the 1974 Division III crown and making three appearances in the championship game at the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl (1974, 1984, 1988).
This year’s title game is slated for Friday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah, Texas. The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) defeated Mount Union in last year’s championship
“We play one-and-done football all year. We feel like we’ve been in the playoffs ever since we opened the conference schedule. We’re going to go out the same way we do every Saturday. We want our players to play their best, play with passion and have fun doing it.”
NCAA Division III football regional bracket
Martin Luther (Minn.) (9-1) at Wheaton (Ill.) (10-0)
Wis.-Oshkosh (8-2) at Central (9-1)
Linfield (Ore.) (8-1) at Chapman (Calif.) (8-0)
Aurora (Ill.) (9-1) at Saint John’s (Minn.) (9-1)