Western Courier

It really doesn’t get much bigger than this

Danny Frey

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Saying that this Saturday’s football matchup between Western Illinois and Illinois State is huge would be more than an understatement.

It’s a clash between the only two remaining undefeated teams in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, arguably the most competitive conference in the FCS. No game in the MVFC is easy; just ask North Dakota State, which was upset at home last week by South Dakota. The Coyotes had lost 14 straight conference games before upending the Bison.

Other than it being important for conference standings implications — with the winner taking over first place in the MVFC — the Leathernecks have an axe to grind with the Redbirds. Last year at Hanson Field, Western surrendered a 27-6 third-quarter lead to Illinois State before Nick Aussieker booted a last-minute field goal to send ISU to a 37-34 victory.

The way that loss happened seemed to dampen the rest of the Leatherneck football season.

Due to the outcome of last year’s contest, head coach Bob Nielson has put an emphasis on finishing out games, which started in the offseason. So far, Western has been able to do that.

Although the fourth quarter of the seesaw battle against Southern Illinois during Homecoming was interesting, it ended up with a Leatherneck “W.” Just this past week against Northern Iowa, after a phenomenal first half and even with an ugly second half, the Leathernecks found a way to hang on.

It’s football; it doesn’t have to be pretty as long as you come off the field with a win. That’s part of the mentality that Western is taking into Saturday’s slobber knocker.

Illinois State has picked up where it left off after the FCS Championship game loss to North Dakota State last year. With their only loss coming in week one to the undefeated Iowa Hawkeyes, the Redbirds will look to defend their Homecoming this week.

It should be a packed house at the newly renovated
Hancock Stadium, but Western had no problem spoiling Northern Iowa’s Homecoming in front of a sellout Panther crowd. Speaking of Northern Iowa, the Redbirds had little problems with UNI earlier this season, winning 21-13, so there’s a little comparison there between the Redbirds and
the Leathernecks.

Last week, UNI may have overlooked Western, and ISU may have been susceptible of the same thing. After Western’s win, the Redbirds are definitely aware of its talent and aggressiveness.

Last year, the Leatherneck defense caused problems for Redbird quarterback Tre Roberson. This season, the defense is more aggressive, with blitzes being a strategy that worked last week against
the Panthers.

Yes, the win over formerly 12th-ranked Northern Iowa was big, but last season the Leathernecks upset another top 25 team at Youngstown State on the road and couldn’t keep the momentum. As Western strives for its first playoff berth since 2010, it will need to keep this momentum all season, starting with a win at No. 3 Illinois State.

Twitter: @smallmedorlarge

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The independent student newspaper of Western Illinois University. Serving Macomb since 1905.
It really doesn’t get much bigger than this