BY JEREMY HOECK
For a third consecutive season, South Dakota State and the University of South Dakota will meet on the football field with one team clinging to playoff hopes.
And the other simply looking to develop some momentum.
The roles are the same for Saturday’s Missouri Valley Conference showdown in Brookings: The Jackrabbits (7-4, 4-3) need a win to keep their post-season dreams alive, while the Coyotes (2-9, 0-7) are looking for anything positive to take into the off-season.
“People look at the records, but hopefully we’re not. It doesn’t mean anything,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said Monday. “Coach (Joe) Glenn will have his guys ready to play, because this is their last opportunity.
“I’m sure they’ll want to make a statement.”
The No. 16-ranked Jacks, though, are again looking beyond the game with the Coyotes. If they are to reach the FCS playoffs for a third straight season, they’ll need to win and possibly get some outside help.”
Although the Jacks sit in a 4-way tie for third place in the Missouri Valley standings, they’re among six league teams ranked in the top-25 this week. It’s a conference the Coyotes have struggled to pick up wins in — they’ve lost their last 11 league games, dating back to last season.
“It’s a tough league, and this is the toughest it’s ever been,” Stiegelmeier said. “I can’t believe both the quality of the teams and the individuals you face. There are some phenomenal athletes.”
In the case of USD, there haven’t been as many close calls as there were last season, when the Coyotes won three league games. This season, however, they’ve lost by an average of 21 points in league games.
“It’s a solid football team; a team that plays very, very hard,” Stiegelmeier said. “It’s a team that I think is waiting for something positive to happen, to build on that. And they haven’t had many of them.”
“Like anybody that’s struggled, you maybe doubt yourself a little bit.”
In the case of South Dakota State, it has rebounded from two straight losses to win its last two, including a 59-24 rout of Western Illinois last Saturday.
One of the biggest surprises for the Jackrabbits this season has been the emergence of redshirt freshman wide receiver Jake Wieneke.
Though, it wasn’t exactly a surprise to his position coach, Stiegelmeier said.
“Our receivers coach, Josh Davis, had been saying last year that Jake was special,” Stiegelmeier said. “It took a while for the rest of us to see that. But he’s a very easy-going guy, he doesn’t get rattled.”
Wieneke, who stands 6-foot-4, has provided matchup problems to opposing cornerbacks. Wieneke, a native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, has caught 60 passes for 1,141 yards and 14 touchdowns — he is the first freshman in league history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in a season.
“He’s gotten better every week, which is really cool,” Stiegelmeier said.
In the blowout win last Saturday, Wieneke had 10 grabs for 159 yards and three touchdowns. He has even surpassed senior standout Jason Schneider (49 rec., 679 yds, 5 TD) as the top target for quarterback Austin Sumner, who is back from a foot injury.
“When you have Schneider on the other side of the ball, they compliment each other so well,” Stiegelmeier said.
After last Saturday’s home loss to Illinois State, USD head coach Glenn was asked about moving to face the rival Jackrabbits — a team that has beaten the Coyotes each of the last two years, since USD joined the Missouri Valley.
“It’s the biggest game in the state, and I don’t care what they say,” Glenn said, before adding with a smile, “They can say they like to play North Dakota State, but I’m calling BS on that.
“This game is between State and the U, and if you don’t believe me, if they lose, you watch and see.”