No suitcases. No airplane. No Linfield.
For the first time in school history, the Cal Lutheran football team will be hosting an NCAA playoff game.
The eighth-ranked Kingsmen (8-1) face No. 14 North Central (Ill.) in the first round of the NCAA Division III Championships on Saturday at noon at William Rolland Stadium.
"I am happy for our kids and our fans and our families to get to be really involved with this first playoff game," CLU head coach Ben McEnroe said after the pairings were released on Sunday. "This is great for the entire CLU community. A lot of times you are on the road in the first round and not everybody can make the trip, so that part of it is great."
CLU has traveled to Oregon to play Linfield the past three seasons, and returned home each time with a loss.
The Kingsmen still could face Linfield, but it would not happen until the second round if both teams win.
"It's just nice to see somebody different," McEnroe said. "It's not that we don't want to play Linfield, it's just we have seen them so many times in the last three to four years and I am sure they feel the same way. We know the road out of this region is going through McMinnville as it should with the season Linfield's had."
The CLU players gathered in Richter Hall on campus to watch the selection show on Sunday. They didn't have to wait long to learn their fate.
Linfield was the first team to pop up on the screen. Once Pacific Lutheran appeared as the opponent, the Kingsmen began clapping.
CLU's name flashed next, and the players began cheering wildly when they realized they were staying at home.
"It's exciting and a very, very great feeling," CLU senior offensive lineman Jordan Austin said. "This whole time I figured we would be playing Linfield again and was preparing for another shot at them up there. But knowing we have a home game against a whole new team is pretty cool."
CLU secured its fourth straight NCAA playoff appearance after beating Chapman last Saturday to clinch its fourth straight outright Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title.
North Central (8-2) earned the automatic bid from the College Conference of Illinois Wisconsin after finishing in a three-way tie for first place.
CLU will be the second SCIAC team North Central has faced this season. The Cardinals defeated Redlands 42-16 on Sept. 8.
"This feels great for about 30 seconds and then you realize it's time to go back to work," McEnroe said. "We have to begin preparing for a really good football team."
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on Nov. 12, 2012