VERMILLION -- For the second time in school history, the University of South Dakota football team is going to the FCS Playoff, but this time around, it will be in a familiar place with a familiar opponent.
The Coyotes will host the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s Southern Illinois Saturday at 5 p.m. inside the DakotaDome.
“We know we’re going to be facing a really good football team because we’re playing a team out of the Valley,” USD head coach Bob Nielson said. “Even though we haven’t played them this year, we have seen them a lot on film, we understand how good they are, and we understand what we have to do.”
This will be the first home playoff game for the Coyotes at the Division I level, as the 2017 appearance featured road games at Nicholls State and Sam Houston State.
“We play good football at home,” Nielson said. “Home field advantage is big all year, it’s big in the playoffs, and I hope our fans are as excited as we are. I know these Thanksgiving weekends are sometimes tough, but I hope it’s a special enough thing that fans make it a point to build it into their schedule, and I’m confident that they will.”
USD was the last team announced on the ESPNU Selection Show broadcast.
“Obviously, we felt like we were deserving to be a part of that bracket,” USD senior linebacker Jack Cochrane said. “Just waited a little bit longer than would’ve been comfortable but (we’re) just happy to be playing more football.”
USD has a chance to play two more MVFC teams in the first two rounds after facing a team from their conference in their last eight regular season games.
“We definitely know what it’s like to play a Missouri Valley team, so we just have to buckle down, get ready to go this week and ready for Saturday,” senior wide receiver Caleb Vander Esch said.
USD is entering the playoffs off a 52-24 loss to North Dakota State in Fargo, North Dakota Saturday. The Bison earned the No. 2 seed in the bracket, and hosts the winner of USD and SIU in the second round.
After a loss to Illinois State in late October, the Coyotes knew they needed to finish strong in their final three games. USD defeated Western Illinois and South Dakota State in the two weeks prior to Saturday’s loss.
“We’ve definitely felt like we’ve had our backs against the wall a little bit the last few weeks,” Cochrane said. “I think we’re accustomed to that feeling like you’re playing for your season. That’s going to continue and continue the same focus and preparation that we’ve had during the season.”
Six MVFC teams made the playoffs this season, with NDSU being the lone team seeded in the conference. South Dakota State and Northern Iowa, two teams the Coyotes beat during the regular season, are also in the field. Missouri State, the other USD conference loss this season, is in the field as well.
The Coyotes host Southern Illinois Saturday at 5 p.m. inside the DakotaDome in Vermillion.