What Missouri Valley Football Conference co-champions North Dakota State and Illinois State have in common is their only losses are to Northern Iowa. For ISU, it was a 42-28 setback on Nov. 1, but that game was played at the UNI-Dome. The Redbirds haven't lost at home in the last two seasons - a combined 12 straight wins at Hancock Stadium.
Their star running back, Marshaun Coprich (1,683 yards), the MVFC offensive player of the year, has the chance to surpass Pierre Rembert's single-season rushing record (1,743). Coprich has opened the season with 11 straight games of 100 or more rushing yards, which is one game off Rembert's ISU consecutive games record.
Coprich and quarterback Tre Roberson feed off each other. The threat of Coprich opens up the downfield passing. Roberson, the newcomer of the year in the MVFC, has combined for 29 passing and rushing touchdowns, and his top three receivers - Cameron Meredith, Lechein Neblett and tight end James O'Shaughnessy - all average 18 or more yards per reception.
Illinois State has been tough against the run, which is a must against UNI. Inside linebacker Pat Meehan, the Redbirds' leading tackler (88), and 6-5, 260-pound defensive end Teddy Corwin are the defensive leaders.
Northern Iowa has won six straight games, including a 44-10 blasting of Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the playoffs. The Panthers are the historical power in the MVFC and are in their 17th playoff appearance, with 20 all-time wins. Coach Mark Farley is the conference's all-time wins leader at 73-31.
Senior running back David Johnson has been at an other-worldly level over the second half of the season. He has gone over 200 all-purpose yards in five of the past six games, including 36
yards (152 rushing, 84 receiving) against Stephen F. Austin.
During UNI's hot streak, quarterback Brion Carnes has come on with increased effectiveness, although he doesn't put up big numbers.
The winner will advance to play either Montana or No. 4 seed Eastern Washington in the national quarterfinals.
Game time is 1 pm Saturday at Hancock Stadium in Bloomington.