Football Fever Grips Students at Wheaton College Undefeated Team Is in National Quarterfinals

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Byline: Robert Sanchez Daily Herald Staff Writer

Wheaton College's first dance grabbed national headlines last month.

But it's the fancy footwork of the football team that's brought the school within grasp of its first national gridiron championship.

The Wheaton Thunder is in the midst of a perfect 12-0 season and plays Saturday against three-time defending national champion Mount Union College in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

"People here are getting excited about football, which hasn't really happened in the past," senior quarterback and Wheaton North graduate Chad Bradley said.

The college's athletic director, Tony Ladd, said that even though final exams are nearing, students are planning to drive through the night Friday to watch the big game. One Ohio family with a Wheaton College student has even agreed to house 13 students during their stay to see the game.

"It's exciting to see these young men succeed," Ladd said.

That excitement can be attributed to the team's success. The Thunder is enjoying its first 12-win season in school history and its first back-to-back conference titles since the 1958-59 seasons.

"We are playing football in December," head coach Mike Swider said. "How many teams get to play games in December that are meaningful playoff games? Not many."

Swider attributes the teams' success to unselfish play.

"We are a team with no egos," he said. "Our society, especially in athletics, is so centered around self-promotion. And we have a football team that's put the cause in front of itself."

Bradley said his teammates are determined.

"We don't get discouraged easily when we are down," he said. "We fight back."

But Saturday the team must face its toughest challenge of the season.

Mount Union hasn't lost a game in four years. The Purple Raiders are riding a 53-game winning streak - one victory shy of the all- time college football record win streak of 54. That record was set in the 1990s by none other than Mount Union itself.

Saturday's game is a rematch of last year's second round playoff game, where Mount Union beat Wheaton 42-21.

Swider says his players don't mind putting their latest winning streak on the line against the team that handed them their last defeat. …