An instate battle between Miles College and West Alabama highlights the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs.
The 24-team field for the playoffs was announced Sunday as the quest to get to Florence for the Division II Championship Game begins.
Miles (8-2) will play at West Alabama (8-3) on Saturday in a first-round game. The winner will face Valdosta State, the No. 1 seed in Super Region Two.
The first-round matchup features two head coaches who were former stars at North Alabama. West Alabama’s Will Hall was an All-America quarterback at UNA and won the Harlon Hill Trophy in 2003.
Miles coach Reginald Ruffin was an All-America defensive end and linebacker at UNA and played on two national championship teams with the Lions.
It is the third playoff berth in school history for West Alabama, which won the Gulf South Conference championship.
Hall said he was surprised his team was not seeded higher after winning the GSC title.
“I can’t remember the Gulf South Conference champion ever being seeded as low as number four, but the positive side is we get to host Miles this weekend on our campus,” Hall said. “It’s been a phenomenal year up to this point. The second part of the season starts right now and we are excited about it.”
Winston-Salem is the No. 1 seed in Super Region 1. Minnesota State claimed the top seed in Super Region 3, while CSU-Pueblo is No. 1 in Super Region 4.
Valdosta State and West Alabama are the only GSC teams in the playoff field. Former GSC members Henderson State and Harding, now of the Great American Conference, each made the playoffs. Henderson State is the No. 2 seed in Super Region 3 and will have a first-round bye, while Harding is the No. 5 seed and will play at Northwest Missouri State.
“One interesting thing about the bracket was having the schools from the Great American Conference,” said Shoals National Championship Committee member Mitch Dobbins. “Harding and Henderson State are certainly teams that people here are familiar with, so it’s great to have them in the playoffs.”
North Alabama did not make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Other familiar names that did not make the playoffs are Grand Valley State and 2011 national champion Pittsburg State.
“It is strange to not see some of the familiar names,” Dobbins said. “But it is good to have some new blood in the field. You have teams like Missouri-Western which beat Northwest Missouri to win their conference and should be a team to watch this year.”
The Division II Championship Game will start at noon on Dec. 15. The game will be televised by ESPN2 and on the Internet on ESPN3. Tickets are $25 and on sale at the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. Tickets can be ordered by calling 256-764-4661 or online at www.d2championship.com.
“We hope the two teams bring a lot of fans, but we need our local fans to support the game,” Dobbins said. “This year we have tickets as low as $6 for groups of 20 or more. We’ve had nothing but great games in the past 10 years and we’re looking forward to another great one this year.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.