The Central Washington University Wildcats — a team with 46 South Sound players — broke an eight-year playoff drought Sunday.
The Wildcats (11-0) earned the No. 1 seed in Super Region Four, the NCAA announced Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats last made the playoffs in 2009.
A No. 1 ranking comes with a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout regional play. CWU’s first playoff game will be against the winner of the first-round game between Winona State (10-1) and Texas A&M-Commerce (9-1).
No. 7 CWU, coached by Graham native Ian Shoemaker, has appeared destined for the playoffs for most of the season. The Wildcats, winners of 13 games in a row, capped a perfect regular season on Saturday with a 42-28 win at Humboldt State. CWU won its first Great Northwest Athletic Conference title since 2012.
CWU was ranked No. 1 in Super Region Four two weeks ago but lost the top spot to Minnesota State, the No. 1-ranked team in the national coaches poll, despite posting a 51-0 win at Simon Fraser. Both teams won road games against Top 25 teams on Saturday and Central moved back into the top spot.
A conference title does not guarantee a spot in the 24-team playoff. The GNAC champion did not qualify a team from the playoffs 2012-15.
In 2009, Central was the No. 1 seed in its region and advanced to the regional finals where the Wildcats lost 21-20 to Northwest Missouri. CWU’s game-tying extra point attempt was blocked with six seconds to play. Northwest Missouri went on to win the national championship.
Central tied with Findlay (Ohio) for the NAIA Division II national championship in 1995.