NDSU, SDSU to meet in 2nd round of FCS playoffs
BROOKINGS (AP) -- It's Round 2 times two for South Dakota State.
The first Football Championship Subdivision postseason win in school history -- a 58-10 blowout of Eastern Illinois on Saturday -- has set up a date with No. 1-ranked North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D., the second in a month between the border rivals.
That familiarity should aid the No. 19 Jackrabbits in preparing for a second playoff game, something they've never had to do before.
"It's a good situation to be in for your second playoff game," coach John Stiegelmeier said.
Especially after the uncertainty of the first. SDSU (9-3) had never faced the Panthers before, had no frame of reference for their mile-a-minute offense and had less time than usual to game plan due to the relatively late playoff pairing and a film-swap issue.
Meanwhile, the Bison and Jackrabbits -- first-time postseason adversaries -- have met 97 times in regular-season play, most recently on Nov. 10 in Fargo. NDSU (10-1) won that contest 20-17 in the sold-out Fargodome, the decisive score coming on a fourth-quarter drive twice extended by penalty.
The defending national champion Bison have played just once since then, meaning SDSU has little new film to consider. The Jackrabbits cut that up already, just in case. They've known for more than a week that this would be the pairing if they beat the Panthers.
NDSU and SDSU were ranked first and sixth, respectively, in the latest Gridiron Power Index, and finished 1-2 in the top-ranked Missouri Valley Football Conference. Teams from that power league haven't faced off in the playoffs since 2002.
But the Jackrabbits aren't about to complain -- at least they have some sense of what they're up against in the next game of what's now the longest season in school history.
"We're going to talk about the errors we made out there, the penalties we made" in the Nov. 10 game against NDSU, coach John Stiegelmeier said. "But it's a new game. I don't think we're going to necessarily go right back to the same game plan -- and I would expect them not to. We just need to find a way to play our best football game."
SDSU was impressive everywhere except the turnstiles on Saturday.
The attendance of 4,367 for the first home playoff game in program history was disappointing, though not unexpected. The Jackrabbits came in averaging more than 13,000 fans and had drawn at least 10,000 in each of their last 10 home games. This was the lowest single-game turnout since a crowd of 3,918 in the 2010 finale against North Dakota.
There were several issues at work -- the holiday weekend and cold weather being the most disruptive. This is hardly a new issue in the FCS playoffs.
In 2010, a quarterfinal contest between Eastern Washington and NDSU drew just 4,060. Last year, Eastern Kentucky reported 2,388 for a first-round game. Attendance figures for the four games played Saturday ranged from 5,465 to 3,032.