VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — The University of South Dakota football team is back in the FCS playoffs for just the second time in program history, but unlike 2017 the Coyotes will get to host their first round matchup as host Southern Illinois in the first round this Saturday.
Though they were confident they’d get into the FCS playoffs with a 7-4 record, USD wouldn’t hear its name called until the very last matchup of the FCS playoffs was announced.
“When UNI went into the bracket, definitely felt that we were going to be in it at some point, because I felt our resume was stronger than theirs based on our head-to-head win. But still I have to admit, I had some butterflies in my stomach there waiting for our name to actually be revealed,” Head Coach Bob Nielson said.
Not only were the Coyotes in, but they were also going to host their very first FCS Playoff game.
“This is a special facility, special community. Really fortunate to be part of the group to give them their first playoff game,” Senior Linebacker Jack Cochrane said.
For the Coyotes 11 seniors, it’s one last chance to play inside the DakotaDome.
“Senior night you know it could be your last home game, but you really hope it’s not because it’s just a great place to play. So very excited to get another game here at the Dome,” Senior Wide Receiver Caleb Vander Esch said.
A handful of those seniors were part of the 2017 playoff team.
“In the playoffs the intensity picks up a notch, even from the Valley Schedule. To win in the playoffs you have to play your best football. So knowing what it takes from a preparation standpoint to play at that level that it takes to win games in the playoffs is going to be important for this week,” Cochrane said.
It’s win or go home on Saturday, which is a familiar mindset for USD.
“We’ve definitely felt like we’ve had our backs against the wall these last few weeks. So I think we’re accustomed to that feeling of, feeling like you’re playing for your season,” Cochrane said.
The Coyotes drew fellow Missouri Valley Conference foe Southern Illinois in the opening round.
“You know both teams got a jump start on preparation as opposed to playing somebody out of a different league that you’re going to start watching for the first time. You know a little bit about their strengths and weaknesses a bit already,” Nielson said.
Regardless of the opponent though, USD is ready for playoff football.
“Made it to the dance and now it’s just about doing what we can with it,” Cochrane said.
Coyotes and Southern Illinois will kickoff their opening round playoff game Saturday at 5 p.m. from inside the DakotaDome. That game will air on ESPN+.