HOLLAND -- Hope College will be playing a familiar opponent in a first round game of the NCAA Division III football playoffs next Saturday (Nov. 22).
The Flying Dutchmen (7-3) will travel to Wheaton, Ill. (10-0) in a rematch of regular season opponents. Wheaton defeated Hope 43-26 on Sept. 27. Kickoff will be 12 noon CST (1 p.m. Michigan time)
The teams of identical school colors (orange and blue) are part of a 28-team playoff field. Both qualified by winning conference championships. Each will be appearing in the NCAA playoffs for the third time.
Hope has yet to get past the first round. The Flying Dutchmen were defeated by eventual national champion Augustana, Ill. 34-10 in 1986 and bowed to Hanover, Ind. 20-3 in 2000.
Wheaton has not lost in the first round. In 1995 the Thunder defeated Wittenberg, Ohio 63-41 but lost to Mt. Union 40-14. A year ago Wheaton defeated MIAA representative Alma 42-14, but again lost to Mt. Union 42-14.
Hope and Wheaton have been football rivals since 1961. The Thunder own an 11-7 edge in the series.
On Saturday, Hope clinched its fourth MIAA championship in seven years under coach Dean Kreps despite losing to rival Albion 28-27. Wheaton, meanwhile, clinched the championship of the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) by edging Augustana 28-27.
Hope and Wheaton are part of the North region where defending national champion Mt. Union, Ohio (10-0) is seeded first and will have a first round bye.
Other North Region first round games will put Hanover, Ind. (8-2) at Baldwin-Wallace, Ohio (9-1) and Concordia, Wisc. (9-1) at Wisc.-LaCrosse (9-1). The Hope/Wheaton winner will face the B-W/Hanover winner.
Wheaton has been ranked nationally the entire season. In the September meeting, senior quarterback Phil Butler had an outstanding passing performance, but it couldn't offset his team's inability to move the football on the ground.
Butler completed 26-of-47 passes for 403 yards and one touchdown, but Hope netted just 59 yards on the ground with an average of only 1.6 yards per rushing play.
Butler has continued his passing excellence surpassing 3,000 yards for the second consecutive season and throwing for 29 touchdowns to raise his career total to 83.
At the same time, the Flying Dutchmen have "found" their running game behind tailback Dan Bloemers. While the senior rushed for a season-best three touchdowns against Wheaton he netted just 44 yards on 24 carries. He has since had three games of over 200 yards and his season total of 1,392 is the third best for a season in Hope history.