When the Football Championship Subdivision playoff pairings were announced Sunday morning, Illinois State's program made history.
By making the 24-team FCS field, head coach Brock Spack's Redbirds are set for a third consecutive appearance, something that had never been done before by an ISU team.
The Redbirds, 6-5 overall and 4-4 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, play at Central Arkansas Saturday. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN3.
"To be part of three straight playoff teams means a lot because it means that my class had a great impact on the university and on the football program," senior offensive lineman Cameron Lee said.
ISU has competed in the FCS playoffs seven times; four of those have come under Spack. The Redbirds finished as the 2014 national runnerup when they narrowly lost to Carson Wentz and North Dakota State 29-27.
Illinois State's other playoff appearances were in 1998, '99, 2006, 2012 and last year.
Though the other Illinois FCS programs failed to make this year's playoffs, each still has its own history.
Eastern Illinois has qualified for the playoffs 16 times, the most recent being last season. The Panthers made the quarterfinals four times (1982, 1986, 1989 and 2013). EIU won the 1978 Division-II national championship and finished second in 1980.
Western Illinois has 10 playoff appearances, the most recent being last year. The Leathernecks reached the quarterfinals three times (1997, 2002, 2003).
Southern Illinois has qualified for the playoffs eight times. The Salukis won the 1983 national championship.
Illinois State notes
The Redbirds are one of four Missouri Valley Football Conference teams to earn playoff bids, joining No. 1 overall seed and five-time defending national champion North Dakota State, No. 8 seed and MVFC regular-season champion South Dakota State and Youngstown State . . . ISU and Central Arkansas have played just once previously. That game took place on Sept. 9, 2006, when the Redbirds defeated the Bears 18-3 at Hancock Stadium . . . Three different ISU players have rushed for 100 or more yards this season: James Robinson, DeMarco Corbin and Jamal Towns . . . Among those seniors who are extending their careers with Saturday's playoff game is linebacker Brent Spack, son of head coach Brock Spack.
Eastern Illinois notes
Saturday's 24-0 victory at Eastern Kentucky allowed EIU to finish the season with a 6-5 record . . . Senior running back Devin Church became the 12th player in school history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. The last Panther to do so was Shepard Little in 2013 . . . Church is the first Eastern player to lead the team in rushing and receiving two years in a row . . . Senior linebacker Seth McDonald's bid to record 100 tackles in a season fell one stop short. However, McDonald still managed to lead the Panthers in tackles two straight seasons . . . Kicker Nick Bruno has made 64 consecutive extra points. The junior hit on all 36 attempts this season . . . EIU opens next season at Indiana State.
Southern Illinois notes
Sophomore quarterback Sam Straub set a school record with 450 passing yards in SIU's 44-34 comeback win over No. 23 Western Illinois Saturday. Straub went 30-for-51 with four touchdowns. He was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Week . . . Straub's 450 yards broke a 10-year-old SIU mark and ranks as the ninth-most prolific game in MVFC history . . . Former Saluki standout and assistant coach Larry Warner is the running backs coach at Central Arkansas, which hosts Illinois State in Saturday's first round of the FCS playoffs. Warner, who played his high school ball in Mississippi, was a first-team All-American running back at SIU in 2008 . . . SIU finished this season with a 4-7 record.
Western Illinois notes
Junior linebacker Brett Taylor has been named a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award, annually given to the best defensive player at the FCS level. Voting takes place this week . . . Lance Lenior leaves WIU holding the top three spots on the Leathernecks' single-season receptions list. Lenior caught 83 balls in 2015, 76 this season and 75 in 2014 . . . Joey Borsellino caught a pass in 34 consecutive games, second only to Lenior's 41 in Western history . . . Three of WIU's five fumble recoveries this season resulted in touchdowns . . . During their three-game losing streak to end the season, the Leathernecks turned the ball over six times . . . WIU completed the season with a 6-5 record.