Don’t expect the Winona State football team to be pulling for Missouri Western University when it comes to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
When Missouri Western upset Northwest Missouri State in its regular season finale on Saturday, it basically eliminated Winona State’s shot at earning a spot in the 24-team Division II national playoff field.
Still, there was hope that somehow, some way, Winona State’s 9-2 season — its best season since winning 10 games in 2007 — would persuade voters to include the Warriors in the Super Region Three field.
At 4:15 Sunday, that hope was dashed.
NSIC champion Minnesota State University, Mankato (11-0) and runner-up Minnesota-Duluth (10-1), the only teams to beat the Warriors this season, earned playoff berths.
Winona State, which last played in the Division II playoffs in 2007, is not finished, however. Shortly after the NCAA announced its playoff field, the Warriors accepted a bid to play Lindenwood, Mo., in the Mineral Water Bowl in Excelsior Springs, Mo., on Dec. 1.
The 12th game the Warriors have been shooting for the past five seasons will finally happen.
“That was the only shot we had (Missouri Western losing, then dropping out of the top six in the Super Region Three rankings),” Winona State coach Tom Sawyer said.
“They (team) are a little somber. They had a chance (at the playoffs), so they are kind of bummed about it. They accomplished a lot. On the other hand, we are excited to go to a bowl game. We got that 12th game.”
Winona State finished the season strong, winning its final three games in impressive fashion after dropping a heartbreaking 30-20 decision to Minnesota State, Mankato. Lindenwood, meanwhile, is a member of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association. It pounded Truman State 38-13 Saturday in its regular season finale.
“We have played down there twice and for our seniors, this is a great way to go out,” said Sawyer, whose 2000 team won the Mineral Water Bowl in triple overtime, and his 2002 team lost in overtime.
“Both games we played there were just outstanding. They (bowl committee) does a great job with a banquet, barbeque, guest speakers. That is what bowl games are about and they do a tremendous job.”
Winona State has three weeks to prepare for the game, which gives Sawyer and his staff time to gear up for Lindenwood, yet take a look at some of the team’s younger players, too.
“We can heal up our older guys and really get a good look at our second- and third-string guys,” Sawyer said. “It’s like another spring (practices), but a bit colder. We’ll get a chance to see what our next year’s team is going to be.”