Southern Illinois Football prepares for Homecoming duel against North Dakota

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Jared Treece | @bisalo

SIU football coach, Nick Hill, encourages the crowd to come pack the stadium for the upcoming Homecoming game during SIU Homecoming Pep Rally at the Student Center Monday, Oct. 11, 2021 at SIU.

The fourth ranked Southern Illinois Football team (5-1; MVC 3-0) will face off against #22 North Dakota (2-3; MVC 0-2) in a heated, Missouri Valley Conference matchup. The game will take place at Saluki Stadium on Oct. 16 and will be the Salukis’ homecoming game. 

SIU played their last game in Brooking, South Dakota where they took down the #2 ranked South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Salukis won 42-41 in an overtime thriller after being down 20-0 in the first half.

“I’m proud of our team that we were able to go on the road, and beat a really good football team in a game that was really exciting. And obviously, [the game] came down to the last play,” Hill said. 

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Junior running back JaVon Williams said the upset will give the Salukis the confidence they need for a playoff push later in the year. 

Freshman cornerback David Miller said SIU isn’t going to dwell in the past when preparing for North Dakota this week.

“We focus on one game at a time. We’ve had time to feel good about ourselves, but now is the time to be humble,” Miller said. 

The Salukis depth has improved after many players decided to stay for another season after losing in the FCS quarterfinals last year. Southern Illinois received transfers over the off-season like Miller, who is playing well for the Salukis. 

“I love the change […] Choosing SIU was an easy decision. I fell in love with the coaching as soon as I started getting recruited,” Miller said. “The community here is really amazing because they give us so much support.”

Miller transferred from the United States Naval Academy (Navy) last spring. 

The Fighting Hawks are a formidable opponent for the Salukis. They are currently ranked 22nd in the country according to the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision.

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Williams said he is confident in the team’s talent across the board, and their depth will give the team an advantage. 

“Depth is a big thing in football […] all of the people we have needed to step up have stepped up,” Williams said. 

North Dakota has many players on both sides of the ball that can cause havoc for the Salukis. 

Miller said the Salukis have multiple schemes prepared to stop the Fighting Hawks. Their offense is primarily through the run game, led by their junior running back Otis Weah. 

“We’ve seen that they like to run the ball. They have a good running back so we’re going to try and limit him and stop the other team from making explosive plays,” Miller said. 

Williams said the offense’s plan is to run the ball constantly while also having an effective passing attack. The Salukis pride themselves on having a well-rounded offensive gameplan. 

SIU is currently first in the Missouri Valley Conference, while North Dakota is tied for last. A win in this game will go a long way for both teams hoping to make the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. 

Hill said this game is a must-win for the Salukis if they want to cement their championship hopes.

“We’ll be ready to play, I promise you that. Every Monday morning, we have a talk with our leadership council and you get the look that this is a mature, veteran team and they understand what it takes to win,” Hill said. 

Williams said his teammates feel the same.

“I believe that my teammates and I view every game we play this year as a must-win. Winning builds momentum, and momentum is very important during the season,” Williams said. 

Oct. 16 is SIU’s homecoming game. Hill said the team is excited to show out for such an important game.

“We’re looking forward to homecoming. We want to set a standard where all of our alumni want to come back and be proud of this football team,” Hill said, “From being a past player, I wanted to build a program where everyone feels welcome to come back, and wanted and valued.”

Despite the importance of the game, Miller said the team isn’t focusing on the outside noise and are determined to prove themselves. 

“I feel like our team really knows how to face pressure and we use it as motivation to play better,” Miller said. 

Williams said the players understand the pressure they will face on Saturday.

“It’s like our strength coach tells us, winning puts a bigger target on your back every week. Every team is gonna try and take that experience away from you,” Williams said. 

SIU hopes to make another statement this weekend against one of the most talented teams in the Missouri Valley Conference. Hill said Southern Illinois understands this game won’t be easy.

“You get caught looking at records or scores, who-played-who close, or how a team’s last game went, in this league your going to get beat,” Hill said, “We’re going to take this thing [the season] one day at a time, one game at a time, but we’re excited about this weekend,” 

Sports Reporter Cole Daily can be reached at [email protected]

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