Same old MVFC only gets tougher

Cody Rivera

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The Western Illinois football team is 2-0. Momentum is on its side following its 40-21 walloping of South Dakota on Saturday. Back-to-back wins in the toughest conference in FCS football are sure to be a confidence booster.

But, we’re only getting started. From this point forward, it gets harder.
And harder.

And harder.

If you take a look at the upcoming games in Western’s schedule, it might feel like you’re looking out over the ocean and seeing nothing but endless water for miles.

Except instead of seeing water, you’re seeing nationally ranked opponents — a grand total of six of them to round out the 2015 schedule for the Leathernecks.

It’s not possible for them to have too much confidence going forward. They need every last bit of it that they can muster.

And a 2-0 start to conference play was also extremely necessary.

“Well, it’s nice to win two in a row,” head coach Bob Nielson said after his team beat South Dakota.

“2-0 is great,” said wide receiver Joey Borsellino. “It’s something that hasn’t happened here in awhile, and that’s something we’re taking pride in. That’s how we wanted to do it. Going up against these ranked teams, I don’t think our team would want it any other way.”

These Leathernecks are full of talent. Everyone knows it.

They have a skilled, experienced quarterback in Trenton Norvell. They have dangerous receiving threats in Borsellino and Lance Lenoir. They have an aggressive ground game with Nikko Watson. They have a solid defense.

Their toughness has been tested twice this year with two down-to-the-wire games — the first against formerly top-ranked Coastal Carolina, which didn’t fall Western’s way, and the second against a gritty Southern Illinois team at home.

That one did end in favor of the Leathernecks, thanks to the left leg of Nathan Knuffman.

Last week’s game against South Dakota, while undoubtedly a great and much needed win, came against a team that went winless in the MVFC last year. I’m not sure it was so much of a toughness test as it was a mere passing of time.

Considering the teams that are lined up to face Western from here on out, the Leathernecks are going to need a toughness test every single week. And you can bet they are going to get it.

It begins on Saturday in Cedar Falls, Iowa when the Leathernecks face off with the Northern Iowa Panthers, a team currently ranked 12th in the STATS FCS Top 25.

Following that, it’s fourth-ranked Illinois State.

It’s tough, but it’s good. Borsellino knows it, channeling his inner Nature Boy Ric Flair.

“If you want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” Borsellino said, adding a slight variation to the famous quote.

So in other words, bring them on.

“We’re about to go play (several) ranked teams and we’re already 2-0 in conference,” Borsellino continued. “So we’re keeping that goal that we have: a conference championship. We’re on track right now, so we’re going to keep this going.”

“I’m pleased with the way we’re playing right now,” Nielson said. “Our guys are playing with a lot of confidence.”

Good. Get as much of that as possible. There’s no such thing as too much.

“Next week, we’re going to play a ranked team,” Nielson said. “The difference is we’ve had two games at home. We’ve played well at home. Now we’re going to have to go out on the road and we’re going to have to keep improving and play well on the road against some really outstanding competition.”

Twitter: @CodyRivera33

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