Fans are eager for SDSU-USD to meet on gridiron
BROOKINGS -- After a nine-year gap, the biggest football rivalry in the state starts up again Saturday.
The South Dakota State University Jackrabbits will host the University of South Dakota Coyotes at 2 p.m. at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium. And a group of Mitchell men are excited to see the latest battle in the athletic war between the state's two largest universities.
Tom Dice, owner of Dice Financial Services Group in Mitchell, plans to be at the game with five friends from Mitchell. Four are Coyotes and two are Jackrabbits.
"Historically, we used to go with about four guys on both sides," Dice said Thursday. "We've missed it. It's unfortunate that the fans, speaking as a fan, have had to miss the opportunity to see these two teams play for the past nine years.
"It's a tragedy. The fans were the losers," he said. "But that's over. Bottom line, they're together."
He's going with Ron Johnson and Jerry Garry, who are SDSU alumni, and USD grads Pat Clark, Bryan Hisel and Steve Culhane.
"We'll drive up together and have a good time," Dice said. "On the way back, I expect the SDSU guys will be bragging. I'll be complaining about the fact they don't have a dome and I'll be freezing."
He said there's always a lot of laughter and good-natured teasing during the trip.
"None of us are terribly big fans," said Dice, who graduated from USD in 1967, where he majored in accounting and business administration. "This is the one game we go to.
"Win or lose, it doesn't really matter. It's more just the enjoyment of the outing."
Johnson, Avera Queen of Peace's director of pharmacy, graduated from SDSU's Pharmacy College in 1980. He has attended several SDSUUSD games with his Mitchell friends, and said it's always enjoyable.
"I love football, for one thing," he said. "We stop along the way, enjoy the game and do a lot of bantering, and then have dinner before heading home."
Johnson said while the USD and SDSU guys both want their schools to win, the friends don't take the outcome too seriously. No one gets upset over the outcome, or the jokes that are lobbed around like a pitch on a sweep.
"I don't think that's ever happened," he said. "It's just good fun."
Jamie Grosdidier, of Mitchell, has a different perspective. He played in the rivalry game. After starring at Mitchell High School, he was an SDSU running back from 1987 to 1992.
Grosdidier won't be able to attend this year's game, since his son has a hockey game in another town, but he will try to catch part of the game on TV. He said he's glad to see SDSU and USD compete against each other.
"I think it's great," Grosdidier said. "It's great to see they're going after each other again."
'Both schools are excited'
For those not attending the game, it will be on TV. Tyler Merriam, SDSU's coordinator of broadcast services, said the game will be televised live in South Dakota.
The telecast is on Midco Sports Net, which is available on the Midcontinent cable system. The game is not available on DirecTV or Dish Network. Live video of the game is also available on the Jackrabbit Extra, a subscription-based service on GoJacks.com.
"Watch parties" are set in Sioux Falls, Rapid City and Denver for SDSU fans who want to see the game.
SDSU Athletic Department staffers are predicting at least 15,000 fans will be at the game, eager to see the two in-state rivals slam pads one more time.
"I think both schools are excited about it," said Bryan Boettcher, USD's sports information director. "This has been a rivalry for so long, since the late 1800s."
SDSU Sports Information Director Jason Hove said this game has been long-anticipated by fans across the state.
"I know all the reserved seats have been sold out basically since they went on sale," Hove said.
Aside from the war for bragging rights, the game has a lot of meaning for SDSU.
The Jacks are ranked 21st in the nation, and are 7-3 overall, 5-2 in the conference.
SDSU has to win to guarantee a playoff berth. USD, on the other hand, is 1-9 overall and 0-7 in the Missouri Valley Football Conference. The Coyotes have lost eight straight.
They're playing for pride -- and a chance to knock off their biggest rival. Despite the down season, USD boosters are ready to see their redsuited team tangle with the blue-clad Jacks.
"Fans have waited a long time to renew this rivalry," Boettcher said. "I don't think the fact that it's a onewin season dampens that."
Hove said the game is so anticipated, in some ways it overshadowed the university's homecoming game and events. "I think it's bigger than Hobo Day," he said. The series stand at 50-48-7 now, with USD having the edge. The first time the two schools met on the gridiron was in 1889 in Sioux Falls, and the game ended in a 6-6 tie. The last time they played was in 2003 in Vermillion, and SDSU won 22-11. After that, as both teams took winding roads to Division I status, they landed in different conferences, and didn't meet.
Last year, the Jacks and the 'Yotes played a pair of basketball games for the first time in eight years, and those games were also met with tremendous fan interest. Saturday's gridiron contest will be no different.
Possible record crowd
It will be one of the biggest football games at Coughlin-Alumni Stadium since the Jacks defeated NDSU 29-24 for the Great West Football Conference title on Nov. 17, 2007, Hove said.
That game drew a record 16,345 fans.
That same day, the school announced a major gift from a group of donors, and the volleyball team won the Summit League Conference title minutes after the football game ended, he said.
Saturday's game may threaten that attendance record.
"I think our fans have been looking forward to this game all year," Hove said. "It's probably similar to a Hobo Day game. There's a lot that's riding on this for us.
"We're bringing in some additional bleachers," he said. "And there will be standing room as well."
Coughlin-Alumni has seating for about 11,000 people, but thousands more will find a place to sit or stand. A large video board will be set up on an adjacent practice field so fans can watch the game while soaking in the atmosphere, Hove said. The weather is supposed to be crisp -- in the mid-50s -- and clear, ideal football conditions. It will be the first USD-SDSU football game for almost all the students, and the kids on both campuses are still learning what the Coyotes vs. the Jackrabbits is all about.
"They don't know a lot about the rivalry," Hove said. Kayla Bessler, a 2012 SDSU graduate and staff assistant at the SDSU Alumni Association, said she is eager for the game. Bessler said a lot of students are getting used to the idea that playing USD is a big deal. She's pumped for the game, and expects the crowd to be loud and enthusiastic.
Boettcher said USD coach Joe Glenn, who played in three USD-SDSU games, has been telling his players about the game's meaning. The veteran coach is in his first year at the helm of his alma mater.
"For our seniors, this is their final game, and their first chance to play SDSU," he said. "They've probably heard a lot about it. Joe Glenn being an alum is certainly excited about it. He can't wait to get going. The last group missed out on it."
The SDSU players are focused more about getting into the playoffs, Hove said.
"I think it's much more about doing what we must do on Saturday to lock up a playoff berth," he said.
SDSU is prepared for the large crowd, and is also ready in case some fans are a little bit too exuberant, Hove said.
SDSU staffers met with the University Police Department on Tuesday, and extra security will be on hand, he said.
"We just want it to be a positive atmosphere," Hove said. "We want to rekindle this rivalry in a positive light. People who are here to cause trouble, they won't be here for long.
"There will always be some people who want to instigate something or other," he said. "We want the game to be the focal point of the afternoon. I think our fans want to be responsible with so much riding on this."
Last fall, USD erected a billboard along Interstate 29 on the edge of Brookings. It depicted a ravenous coyote chasing a fleeing jackrabbit, with the words, "Have an old friend for dinner" on it, and a reminder about the 2012 football game.
The billboard garnered a lot of attention when someone hung a dead coyote from it.
Dice laughs as he talks about the billboard.
"It was just designed to inflame the rivalry," he said.
It doesn't appear this game needed any extra fuel. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m., and the cheers may be heard in Mitchell.