Kansas Wesleyan’s second consecutive trip to the NAIA Football Championship Series will begin in the same location that last season’s journey ended.
The 11-0 and No. 3-ranked Coyotes play Baker at noon, Saturday at Graves Family Sports Complex in the first round of the 2019 playoffs. Their three playoff games last fall were at Graves Complex as they defeated Langston (Okla.) and Dickinson State (N.D.) before losing to Benedictine in the semifinals.
KWU is the No. 3 seeding in the 16-team field that was announced Sunday night. Morningside (Iowa) is first, Marian (Ind.) second and Grand View (Iowa) fourth.
Quarterfinal games will be played November 30, the semifinals December 7 and the national championship game December 21 at Grambling University in Ruston, La.
Baker (8-2) is a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, which includes Benedictine. The No. 15-ranked Wildcats, a perennial NAIA power, started the season 2-2 but have won their last seven games, including a 30-10 victory over Benedictine on November 9, and a 28-21 victory over then-No. 17 ranked Evangel on Saturday that thrust them into the playoffs.
“Baker’s a team that you always hear as a top team in the nation at the NAIA level,” first-year KWU coach Myers Hendrickson said Sunday evening. “We’re going to dive into the film tonight and start studying as fast as we can.
“But just off the top of my head I know we’re facing an extremely talented team that plays in a tough conference, they’ve beaten a lot of really good teams this year and I expect this will be the best team we’ve played all season.”
The Coyotes completed their second straight undefeated regular season Saturday with a convincing 61-31 victory over No. 25 Bethel at Graves Complex. The second season begins Saturday and the tasks will be incrementally more difficult.
“(Baker) played in what looked like a conference championship (Saturday) so they’ve got a ton of momentum,” Hendrickson said. “They play good competition week in and week out.”
The Coyotes are like Baker in that they survived a four-week gauntlet with road games at Avila and Sterling, and home games against McPherson and Bethel.
“We’ve been in playoff mode the past month,” Hendrickson said. “We wouldn’t be in this position if we weren’t. The second half of the schedule’s been very backloaded and there’s been tough games going back to Avila, and every week since then.
“We’ve played back-to-back ranked teams the last two weeks, too. Our players are locked in and dialed in and ready to go to work.”
Saturday’s game also presents challenges for new KWU Director of Athletics Steve Wilson, whose first day on the job was November 11. He said he’ll follow the same script his predecessor Mike Hermann did in 2018.
“Mike Hermann left probably the most detailed file cabinet that anyone’s ever passed on, athletic director to athletic director,” Wilson said Sunday. “We’re in good shape, we’re going to follow most of last year’s road map and learn from it and improve on it and make it a fun experience for our fans and student-athletes.”
Wilson said ticket information will be announced Monday.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to start presale early this week,” he said. “There will be an online option, an in-person option here in the athletic office and, of course, on game day.”
Wilson watched Saturday’s game from the KWU sideline and was impressed with what he saw.
“They’re fun to watch,” he said. “Not only are they fun to watch they’re full of guys with character, they’re fun guys to be around.
“I’ve actually been to two games, one before I officially started, and spent 90 percent of the time on the sideline. That’s because of the guys and the coaches. I like that energy, I like being down there in that environment with them. I like being able to see the whole facility and being able to manage things and being able to be somewhere if I’m needed.”
Wilson said he anticipates another strong showing of support from Salina fans.
“The community and university showed off last year and we’re hoping they do again,” he said. “We’re going to do our part and we’re hoping they show up in numbers at what I think is one of the NAIA’s best homefield environments.”
Finding addition seating will be a topic of discussion this week, Wilson said. The three games last year drew large crowds.
“(Baker is) going to bring an awful lot of fans from Baldwin City, that’s a tradition-rich program,” he said. “We’ll have to figure out where to put everyone because we’re anticipating a very packed house.”
The other first-round games are:
Dickinson State, N.D. (8-2) at Morningside, Iowa (10-0)
Reinhardt, Ga. (9-2) at Marian, Ind. (9-0)
Concordia, Mich. (8-2) at Grand View, Iowa (11-0)
Ottawa, Ariz. (9-1) at College of Idaho (10-0)
St. Francis, Ind. (7-2) at Lindsey Wilson (10-0)
Cumberlands, Ky. (9-1) at Keiser, Fla. (9-0)
Saint Xavier, Ill. (8-2) at Northwestern, Iowa (9-1)