By RICK PETERSON
SEARCY, Ark. -- By the end of a football season, it's easy for players to get sick of practice.
But Washburn University's football team is happy to keep grinding as long as possible if it means the Ichabods can keep their outstanding 9-2 season going.
"You get something you really look forward to and it's a goal we've been chasing for a long time here, so it's definitely gratifying knowing that you're in (the playoffs) but you didn't just come here to take part,'' Washburn senior All-MIAA first-team quarterback Mitch Schurig said. "You want to play well and keep on winning.''
For the first time since the 2011 season and the fourth time in the program's history, the 9-2 the Ichabods will be out to extend their season when they face off against No. 7-ranked Harding at 1 p.m. Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
Harding finished the season 10-1 in the Great American Conference and is the No. 2 ranked team in NCAA Super Region 3, while Washburn, which has won six straight games, garnered the No. 7 seed out of Super Region 3.
The Ichabods and the Bisons have met only once, with the Ichabods winning 20-17 on Sept. 25, 1976 at Harding.
The Ichabods also went to the 2005, 2007 and 2011 NCAA Playoffs, all under coach Craig Schurig, and have gone 1-3, with the win a 52-49 home decision in 2011 against Abilene Christian.
Overall, Saturday will be Washburn's 14th postseason game appearance in program history, with seven bowl games and now four NCAA appearances.
Craig Schurig said that making it to the D-II playoffs is a great, and deserving, reward for the Ichabod players, particularly the senior class.
"They've been a special group, the seniors in particular, but the whole group,'' Schurig said. "When we ended 2019 we were like, 'This is a good team, and we've just got to hold this together,' and they did, even after we lost 2020.
"I'm so proud of the guys and to get this game as a reward, making the playoffs for the first time in 10 years, that's special.''
Washburn remained No. 24 in the latest American Football Coaches Association Top 25 poll for the second consecutive week and the Ichabods are coming off a 38-28 win over Missouri Southern in their regular-season finale.
The Ichabods are ranked ninth in the nation in third-down conversions, moving the chains on 51 percent of their attempts, while Harding leads the nation converting 57 percent of its attempts.
Washburn is ranked 21st in the nation in completion percentage at 63 percent while Harding leads the nation with an average of 400.6 rushing yards per game.
Mitch Schurig is fifth in the nation in passing efficiency (169.7), fifth in the nation in completion percentage (68.7), 20th in the nation in passing touchdowns (24) and 36th in the nation in passing yards per game (237.3). James Letcher Jr. is 14th in the nation in all-purpose yards at 150.7 yards per game.
Washburn's Malick Fall is eighth in the nation in sacks at 1.00 per game, which leads the MIAA.
Harding's Cole Chancey leads the nation in total touchdowns with 23 and total points scored at 138 while rushing for 1,148 yards.
Ichabod senior running back Zach Willis sits 11th on Wasburn's all-time rushing list with 1,795 yards and Willis iis 12th all-time with 18 career rushing touchdowns.
Mitch Schurig has passed for 6,611 yards in his career, which ranks third in WU history and his 62 TD passes ranks No. 2 in program history while his 64.2-percent pass completion percentage is No. 1.
Letcher's 26.10 yards per kickoff return is third all-time at Washburn and his 144 career receptions is fifth all-time.
Washburn will be facing a Harding team that is riding a nine-game win streak.
The Washburn-Harding winner will advance to the second round of the NCAA playoffs to face the winner of the Northwest Missouri-Central Washington game on Nov. 27.