VERMILLION — History will be made Saturday when the University of South Dakota hosts conference rival Southern Illinois in the first round of the FCS playoffs.
The DakotaDome will be the site of a playoff game for the first time in USD’s Division I era and for the first time in any capacity since 1986 at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Both teams were 7-4 in the regular season and did not play during the regular season, leaving them susceptible to being paired together in the first round despite both being Missouri Valley Football Conference teams. USD gets the home game after having the higher monetary bid to host a home game in the first round. The winner will keep the Valley theme going, visiting No. 2 seed North Dakota State on Dec. 4.
“We know what we’re going to be facing. We’re playing a really good football team because we’re playing a team out of the Valley … We understand how good they are,” USD coach Bob Nielson said.
The Coyotes, who were picked eighth in the preseason in the Missouri Valley, came into the last three weeks of the season knowing they would likely need two wins and got those, thanks to victories over Western Illinois and South Dakota State. In that way, the actual start of the playoffs merely continues a “win or go home” mentality.
“You’re playing for your season,” senior linebacker Jack Cochrane said. “That’s an approach that you try to take each week during the year but now it’s literally true.”
USD is in the playoffs for the first time since 2017, when the Coyotes won on the road at Nicholls before falling at Sam Houston State. Cochrane was among the current Coyotes to be on that last playoff team.
“It’s another great step as a Division I program,” Nielson said. “To be in the national playoffs twice in a five-year period, that shows that we’re moving in the right direction. To be able to host a game, it’s great for our university and our program.”
The Coyotes have gotten strong play from quarterback Carson Camp, wh pranks in the top-10 nationally in completion percentage and passing efficiency with 17 touchdowns. Cochrane and Brock Mogensen have starred for the Coyotes defense at linebacker, with Cochrane making his 39th start in his career at home on Saturday but the first in a home playoff game.
“The intensity picks up a notch, even from the Valley schedule,” Cochrane said. “To win in the playoffs, you have to play your best football, so knowing what it takes from a preparation standpoint to win games in the playoffs is going to be important this week.”
The Salukis, who were 6-4 during the spring season and bowed out in a close loss in the FCS quarterfinals at the hands of South Dakota State in May, started the fall season at 6-1, including five straight wins and a road overtime win at SDSU 42-41 in October. But since then, the Salukis have struggled, losing three of their final four games, including a 35-18 dud loss to three-win Youngstown State at home last week.