Thoughts from the press box: Bob Nielson still winning for Western

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Jake Thompson

Charlie Fisher’s laidback demeanor is a better fit than Bob Nielson was for the Leathernecks.

Danny Frey

On paper, the South Dakota and Western Illinois football teams were evenly matched. The score and play on the field also reflected that, and why not?

The Western players knew Bob Nielson’s style of play. Many of the current Leathernecks were recruited by the current South Dakota coaching staff. The Coyote coaches stayed a little longer last week every day in preparation for meeting their old players again.

It was quite a contrast in offensive styles, with the traditional spread attack of Nielson and the pro-style run by head coach Charlie Fisher. The differences continued with the demeanors of each coach. They both have their positives. Nielson is very reserved and focused all of the time. I think the best way to describe Fisher is a free spirit who definitely seems more motivated on the sideline. You can tell this by looking back at the pre-game handshake between the counterparts.

A 1- point advantage at half wasn’t enough for the Coyotes, and if you have followed Leatherneck football over the past few years, it wasn’t that surprising. Multiple times over specifically the last two years, big leads for Nielson and company were lost late in the ballgame and were often costly.

Obviously, I’m not a coach and will never have the brains enough to be one, but questions should be asked about South Dakota’s play calling as the game progressed. A steady diet of shots downfield was seen throughout the first half, but the risks are practically non-existent in the second half. It’s always tough to tell what is a “safe” call and what isn’t. One thing that was obvious was the dependence on the ground game in goal line situations. Western dialed up a pass from the 2-yard line a week after Sean McGuire was stuffed trying to leap over the pile against North Dakota State.

The scene in the locker room after the win would give you goose bumps. Coach Fisher described how the team never gives in while the players were jumping up and down cheering. One of the heroes of the game, Josh Smith, who forced the late fumble, was lifted up by defensive coordinator David Elson. It was easy to tell that it was an emotional game that the team was more than elated to win. The celebration concluded with Fisher dancing with the team.

Saturday was a very important win when it comes to momentum in the season. Somehow there are only three games left in the regular season, and presumably one more win locks Western into a postseason spot. Two more victories could line up a home game. As always though in the Missouri Valley, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. Illinois State and Northern Iowa visit Hanson Field in the next two weeks.