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Jeff Kolpack, Published October 14 2013

Bison face a Southern Illinois team on the upswing

FARGO – Saturday will mark the halfway point of the Missouri Valley Football Conference slate, and for the fourth time this season, it’s the game of the year for North Dakota State.

This time, it’s a trip to Southern Illinois to face a team that is fighting for its FCS postseason life. The Salukis put themselves into the playoff picture the last two weeks with road wins over two teams ranked in the top 10 of the FCS coaches poll.

A late field goal beat South Dakota State 27-24 two weeks ago. Last week, it was a 24-17 win in overtime at Northern Iowa to push SIU to 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the league.

Beating NDSU would be a resume-building win for the Salukis, whose losses are to Big Ten Conference Illinois, No. 3-ranked Eastern Illinois and a one-point loss to 15th-ranked Youngstown State.

“(SIU) is playing its best football,” said Bison head coach Craig Bohl. “They’ve made significant improvements from last year. I imagine they’ll have a big crowd for their homecoming game.”

After NDSU, the combined record of SIU’s other opponents is 6-12. Three of the Bison’s last four opponents are currently .500 or below. A team has started 4-0 28 times in league history and in all but one case (Western Kentucky in 2005) finished second or higher in the standings.

It’s been a first half of big games for NDSU and it started right away with a win at Kansas State, the defending Big 12 Conference champions. The Bison retained the Dakota Marker shutting out South Dakota State and that was followed with its yearly intensity-driven clash with Northern Iowa.

Like K-State, the Bison won that game with a late touchdown drive.

It appears NDSU will have all of its regulars making the trip to Carbondale, Ill., although it’s uncertain if nagging injuries will keep somebody on the sideline. Cornerback Marcus Williams, who broke his hand last week against Missouri State, will play, Bohl said.

“He’s got a little bit of casting on his hand but he’s ready,” he said.

Starting linebacker Carlton Littlejohn and backup offensive tackle Jack Plankers, who both missed the Missouri State game with knee injuries, appear to be ready to go, Bohl said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia