Playoff rematch with NDSU another step in SIU's growth

Southern Illinois flexed its muscles Saturday in a first-round playoff win at South Dakota. The Salukis face No. 3 North Dakota State this weekend. (Photo by SIUSalukis.com)

Winning on the road in the playoffs Saturday against South Dakota was a feather in the cap of Southern Illinois’ football program.

“This is the second road playoff win in a calendar year,” SIU head coach Nick Hill said. “I’m proud of the guys in that room.

“This is a good football team that’s been battle tested like crazy,” Hill said after beating the Coyotes, 22-10, in the opening round of the FCS playoffs last weekend. “They’re stacking up a resume this calendar year that not many teams in Saluki history can talk about.”

Hill played for four of coach Jerry Kill’s seven seasons at SIU, when the team won just one road playoff game, at Eastern Illinois when the Salukis were the No. 1 seed in 2005. Since going 2-9 in 2018, SIU has 21 victories under Hill over the past three seasons.

But what the Salukis accomplished in Carbondale on Feb. 27 during the spring FCS season – ending then-No. 1 North Dakota State’s 39-game winning streak with a 38-14 demolition — is the biggest accomplishment of the Hill era’s resume.

When the No. 21 Salukis (8-4) travel to face the third-ranked Bison (10-1) Saturday in the second round of the playoffs – 40 weeks removed from one of the program’s biggest wins in its history — the venue will change but not a lot of the faces.

“There’s a lot of carry over,” Hill said. “(With NDSU) they’re not trying to trick you on either side of the ball. They’re going to line up and outexecute you. We feel confident in our guys. In the spring, I felt like we got going moving the football, we were getting stops. What you can revert back to is that there are a lot of the same players out there on the field.”

On Tuesday, NDSU had 14 players named the All-Missouri Valley Football teams, but Southern was close behind with 10 honorees, including first-team members Zeveyon Furcron (offensive guard) and Qua Brown (safety).

“Southern Illinois has a ton of talent,” NDSU coach Matt Entz said. “I think they’re better than their record shows. You look down the roster and there are a lot of names that are familiar from the spring.”

When it comes to resumes, NDSU knows plenty about stacking up accomplishments.

The Bison have won the outright MVFC title in two of Entz’s three seasons as head coach and have won eight of the last 10 FCS national titles, including the 2019 championship in Entz’s first season.

What does Entz take away from the spring?

“They were better than us on that day,” he said during his weekly press conference. “They whipped us up and down the field. What we need to do is be more efficient on early downs. In the spring, they did a great job of managing the game.”

Entz downplayed a focus on revenge in advance of Saturday’s game.

“We haven’t talked about that,” he said. “It’s just the next game and we’ve got to be prepared. It’s the next one we need to win.”

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