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Jeff Kolpack, Published November 22 2013

Youngstown, SDSU meet for likely playoff berth today

FARGO – One week after hosting one of the biggest football games in recent program history, Youngstown State will have to do it all over again today. This time, it’s for a berth in the FCS playoffs.

The Penguins and South Dakota State will play for what most consider as a postseason spot in the field of 24. For Youngstown, last week’s clash with North Dakota State was for a chance at the Missouri Valley Football Conference title.

The Bison won 35-17.

NDSU claimed the league’s automatic berth. But at 8-3, a win should give the Penguins an at-large berth.

“From the feedback I’ve received, I don’t think either team can approach it any different,” said YSU head coach Eric Wolford. “The winner has a good shot of getting in, and whoever loses runs the risk of it going to committee, and you don’t know how that will play out.”

Wolford said quarterback Kurt Hess, who was knocked out of the Bison game with a reoccurrence of a sprained ankle, will start today. He said he was pulled from the NDSU game partly with SDSU in mind. Hess was clearly hobbling when he tried to re-enter the Bison game in the third quarter.

“The trainer and him decided it was in the best interest of future games to go ahead and pull him at that point,” Wolford said.

Backup quarterback Dante Nania separated his shoulder against NDSU and is doubtful for today.

Meanwhile, the Jackrabbits have won three straight to vault back into playoff contention. Head coach John Stiegelmeier said his team treated that stretch like it was a playoff situation.

“If you want to have a chance, you have to play every play like it’s your last, because if you don’t get it done, you’re done,” he said. “Our guys have responded.”

For Nielson, Valley has different look than NSIC

Western Illinois finishes its first season under head coach Bob Nielson today at Northern Iowa. The Leathernecks have seen progress at 4-7 overall, although it’s a ways from the success Nielson had at Minnesota-Duluth.

“The biggest thing and the obvious thing is the program here is in a lot different stage than we were at Duluth,” he said. “We’re trying to work our way back to be one of the top teams, which is the point where we got to at Duluth.”

Nielson said the biggest difference between the Missouri Valley and the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference is the quality of teams from top to bottom.

“The quality of competition you play every week is considerably different,” he said. “You make a couple mistakes and it’s hard to battle back. We have a long ways to go to be a championship team but we’re headed in the right direction.”

Etc. etc. etc.

Seven Missouri Valley schools are ranked in the top 30 of the Gridiron Power Index, although it remains to be seen if that will make a difference when the FCS playoff field is announced Sunday morning at 10:30 on ESPNU.

NDSU joined UNI and Southern Illinois as the only league teams to win at least three titles in a row. UNI had seven straight from 1990-96 and SIU won three in a row from 2003-05.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546. Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia