BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI
Special to Sun-Times
The postseason starts this weekend in NCAA Division III and NAIA football, with three Chicago area-teams in action.
In the NAIA, MSFA Midwest runner-up St. Xavier (8-2, 4-1) plays at home Saturday against Campbellsville of Kentucky. The Cougars wrapped up their regular season by whipping Olivet Nazarene 36-6, and in the process moved up three spots to No. 3 in the rankings. That puts St. Xavier in position for a second-round game at home if it can beat Campbellsville.
Two longtime friends and rivals meet in an NCAA Division III opener. CCIW champion Wheaton (10-0, 7-0), ranked No. 8 at D3Football.com, plays host to NACC tri-champion Benedictine (6-4, 5-1). Wheaton finished its regular season by beating Carthage 21-2, while Benedictine won 16-0 to hand Lakeland its first conference loss and claim an automatic bid.
Wheaton coach Mike Swider and Benedictine’s Jon Cooper have known each other for more than 25 years, including Cooper’s time at Aurora before coming to Benedictine.
“Wheaton is an extremely well-run football program,” Cooper said. “They’re very disciplined, very athletic. They have a quarterback [Johnny Peltz] who can make plays with his feet. You can do everything right, and he can make the play. Defensively, they’re extremely disciplined. They don’t give up big plays.”
Swider took note of Benedictine’s five-game winning streak after digging a 1-4 hole.
“They’re a well-coached football team by a guy who has been around the block,” Swider said “They have some good players who are playing well when you need to be playing well, at the end of the year. They’re on a roll and they can feel it.”
Maroons earn title
The University of Chicago (8-1, 3-0) topped host Case Western Reserve 20-10 in Cleveland to earn its fifth University Athletic Association championship. Chandler Carroll ran for 98 yards, Zak Ross-Nash scored on a six-yard run and Vincent Beltrano scored on a 49-yard fumble return. The UAA does not get an automatic bid to the Division III playoffs, and the Maroons were not chosen as an at-large team.
Aurora’s women’s team and Wheaton’s men’s team have reached the final 16 in NCAA Division III soccer. Aurora (19-3-1) advanced with a 1-0 overtime victory at Lake Forest and will take on Centre College at the University of Chicago on Saturday. Spartans junior Nicci Bermudes is second in Division III with 35 goals and leads with 12 game-winning goals.
Wheaton (19-3), beat Wisconsin-Whitewater 3-0 in a second-round game. The Thunder host Wartburg on Friday, with the winner getting a Saturday match against the Trinity (Texas) Loras winner.
Cardinals No. 1
North Central, winner of the Midwest Region cross-country meet, is a unanimous No. 1 in the final coaches’ poll entering the NCAA Division III national championship meet Saturday at Mason, Ohio. In the regional at Winneconne, Wisconsin, the Cardinals placed all seven runners in the top 20, with Aron Sebhat finishing fourth.