When SIU’s football team hosted North Dakota State on Feb. 27, coach Nick Hill implored his players to leave a legacy.
As the Salukis’ 38-14 win that day showed, legacy left.
SIU dominated every phase of the game in building a 38-7 fourth quarter lead and stopping the Bison’s 39-game winning streak in a performance that drew national attention.
Now comes the rematch on Saturday in the second round of the FCS playoffs at 2:30 p.m. (101.5 FM, ESPN+). Aside from being a round of 16 game, second-seeded NDSU has to be itching for some revenge, at least deep down inside.
As for the Salukis?
“This team has already left a legacy,” Hill said Monday morning during his game-week presser. “This is their third straight winning season and we’ve been to the playoffs back-to-back years. We’ve gotten road wins in the playoffs back-to-back years.
“We’re going on to our 13th game this fall and our 23rd game this year. You don’t need a talk at that at this point. This is about preparing for a game against an unbelievable team.”
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SIU (8-4) earned its trip to Fargo by dumping South Dakota 22-10 in the first round. The Salukis looked more like the team that was ranked No. 3 in late October and less like the one that limped to a 1-3 finish that included a 35-18 loss to 3-7 Youngstown State in the regular season finale.
SIU controlled the ball for 35:23 with a balanced attack that included 174 yards on the ground and 233 in the air. Its defense stifled a good team, forcing four turnovers from freshman quarterback Carson Camp and allowing only 111 yards on the ground.
The Bison usually stand as a referendum of a team’s physical and mental toughness. They average 271.8 yards per game on the ground while limiting opponents to 85.1. They convert 46 percent on third down and allow the opposition to convert less than 27 percent.
How do the Salukis turn those numbers around and quiet the Fargodome?
“They’re going to test your physical will,” Hill said. “You have to be gap-sound, but then they have great play-action stuff off the run. You’ve got to be more physical than them and have a great belief that you can beat them.”
The latter isn’t a question, not after February. The former? That won’t be known until about 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
Hill said Monday that of the notable injuries from the South Dakota game, wide receiver Avante Cox is farther along than running back Justin Strong.
Cox, who carved up the Coyotes for 148 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches, has played with a shoulder problem nearly all season. Strong sustained a sprained ankle after rushing for 24 yards on six attempts.
Hill said his team has displayed outstanding depth to make it to this point, considering the fact it played nine games in the spring after the MVFC moved its conference games from the fall of 2020 due to COVID-19.
“We’ve handled it as good as we can,” he said. “Whoever’s still playing has proved to have some sustained depth. We’re playing without our leading tackler from spring (Bryson Strong) and our top cornerback (James Ceasar).
“If you haven’t recruited to a level where the next guy can come up, you probably aren’t still playing.”
Ten SIU players earned spots on the all-conference team that was announced on Monday, with safety Qua Brown and offensive guard ZeVeyon Furcron earning first team honors for the second straight season.
Brown, who intercepted two passes at South Dakota, is one of the all-time leading tacklers in school history. Furcron will make his 47th consecutive start at North Dakota State, barring injury or some other occurrence, and his 54th career start.
Running back Javon Williams, wide receiver Landon Lenoir, defensive end Anthony Knighton and linebacker Bryce Notree were second team selections. Cox, quarterback Nic Baker and cornerback PJ Jules earned third team mention.
Cornerback David Miller was an All-Newcomer Team pick.