SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Nine years ago, the longest break in the South Dakota vs. South Dakota State football rivalry came to an end when the Jackrabbits and Coyotes met in their first contest as members of the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
At 1 p.m. Saturday at the DakotaDome, the intrastate rivals will meet for the 115th time with bragging rights, conference title and playoff implications on the line.
“Both teams are really, really good. Both teams are ranked in the top 20. That heightens the interest,” South Dakota Athletic Director David Herbster told KELOLAND News. “You want to get to this point in a season and play a game that matters.”
Both Herbster and SDSU Director of Athletics Justin Sell pointed out how the USD-SDSU football game typically comes at the end of the regular season. That means there’s always a clearer view of how the conference has played out.
The Jackrabbits are six days removed from winning another rivalry game against North Dakota State in a top-10 matchup. Sell said that’s the beauty of the difficult MVFC.
“If you want to be really good, you need good competition,” Sell said. “We’ve certainly been pushed along by many schools.”
Throughout the Division I-era of the USD-SDSU rivalry, Sell emphasized how many of the various USD-SDSU contests carry additional weight. Whether it determines who wins a league title, reaches a national tournament or earns a playoff spot, Sell said when the Jackrabbits play the Coyotes the contest has extra energy.
“It’s not transactional in nature and I think that’s the beauty of this rivalry series,” Sell said. “It’s not buying a ticket just to come watch a game. It’s literally getting fully into supporting your university and finding a passion for that.”
SDSU first announced the move to Division I athletics in 2003, while USD followed in 2006. The rivalry took an eight-year hiatus before returning in 2012, when the Jackrabbits won the first Division I contest 31-8 in Brookings.
SDSU went on to win six more MVFC contests over USD, but the Coyotes still hold the most recent bragging rights from a 24-21 victory in 2019 at the DakotaDome. The 2020 matchup was canceled for COVID-19 protocols.
“It’s always something you look forward to, to culminate a season,” Herbster said. “Fans are the ones that circle this one on the calendar.”
Coyotes vs. Jackrabbits 2020-2030
Heading into the second decade of the Division I-era, both Herbster and Sell said both programs will only continue to benefit from tough competition.
“It’ll be very interesting,” Herbster said. “We’re kind of all sitting back and looking at what does college football will look like in the next ten years.”
Sell emphasized keeping SDSU playing in competitive leagues is paramount.
“There’s obviously a lot of movement amongst different leagues across the country,” Sell said. “We feel pretty strong that we got a great league and one that we’re proud to be part of. These types of games, getting some of that regional/national exposure is critically important for us to be successful as athletic programs down the road.”
Herbster said he sees 10 more years of high-level competition and more great games.
He praised the direction the rivalry has moved to since restarting in 2012.
“I think the rivalry is good. I give Justin Sell a lot of credit at SDSU for bringing back the rivalry in the right way,” Herbster said.
Focus stays on the athletes
Both Herbster and Sell praised the creation of the South Dakota Showdown Series. Along with South Dakota Corn and Feeding South Dakota, both universities compete for the Showdown Trophy in 21 different contests for a possible 23 points.
“The whole package is what makes it special,” Sell said. “The benefits from the entire rivalry series are far greater than any one of those sports.”
Herbster said the Showdown Series helps connect all of the athletes at USD and that’s helped keep rivalry games special.
“Making it about the game and not what’s thrown on the floor or some of the other things that happened,” Herbster said. “I think the fan bases throughout the year know each other, they work together, they’re all part of the same family but when it comes to this one day a year, you’re either red or you’re blue.”
“We both recruit very good students,” Sell said. “From a sportsmanship standpoint, we should really be focusing on those kids and that should be the primary focus. Cheering on your team and not worrying so much about the other team.”
Herbster said one of the biggest changes since the rivalry restarted in 2012 has been the upgrades at both facilities in Vermillion and Brookings. SDSU renovated Coughlin-Alumni Stadium and opened Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in 2016.
USD built the Sanford Coyote Sports Center ahead of the 2016-17 season allowing for more renovation at the DakotaDome that wrapped up in 2020.
Saturday may end up being the first sold-out game of the renovated DakotaDome and Herbster said his staff is excited to show off the upgrades.
“We really haven’t been able to have a full house here like it was designed for,” Herbster said. “Everybody can be assured it’ll be 72 degrees and sunny at kickoff. Come down, enjoy it and cheer loud.”