Ashland University's football team will begin the quest for a national championship at home against a familiar opponent.
The Eagles – 10-0 overall, co-champs of the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and ranked No. 3 in the country – will take on No. 14 Grand Valley State (9-2) in an NCAA Division II Super Region 4 quarterfinal on Saturday (Nov. 21) at noon at Jack Miller Stadium/Martinelli Field.
Ashland is the super region's third seed, Grand Valley State its sixth seed.
"It's tough to beat a good football team once, much less twice, in the same season," said Ashland head coach Lee Owens. "Grand Valley is so talented. We played really, really well the first time we played them, and you have to hope that we can play as well this time.
"They're a tough out. They've got great players and a great tradition, and they're playoff-tested. It's a tough draw for us."
Ashland earned its second undefeated regular season in the last four years this fall. The Eagles have won a school-record 12 consecutive home games.
The No. 1 seed in Super Region 4 is Midwestern State (Texas), which will have a bye in the first round. Midwestern State (10-1) will play the winner of No. 4 seed Colorado State-Pueblo (10-1) and No. 5 seed Indianapolis (10-1) in one semifinal.
The Eagles-Lakers winner will play the winner of No. 2 seed Ferris State, 10-0 and the other co-GLIAC champion, and No. 7 seed Texas A&M-Commerce (8-2), in the other regional semi.
"It's a tough region, no question," Owens said of a super region where all seven teams are ranked in the top 14 in Division II. "Maybe the toughest of the four regions. There's not going to be an easy draw at all. Our guys have met tough challenges before, but it's a pretty hard challenge."
AU has won two consecutive games against GVSU, including this year on Oct. 31, a 45-31 decision at home. The Lakers lead the all-time series, 16-4.
This is the Ashland football program's sixth trip to the Division II playoffs (1986, 1996, 2007, 2008 and 2012). Saturday's game will be the program's third-ever home postseason contest.
"We're a little bit more battle-tested, I think, than 2012, with the schedule we played, which is important," Owens said. "We need to be battle-tested to play a team like Grand Valley. We don't have the playoff history or tradition that they do, we haven't had the playoff success they have. It's going to take a tough effort on our part to win."
Twenty-eight teams in four super regions qualified for the Division II playoffs. The top-seeded team in each super region gets a first-round bye.
The 2015 NCAA Division II national championship game will be Saturday (Dec. 19) at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.