CEDAR FALLS — In each of its last two FCS playoff appearances, Northern Iowa has had a rematch with a regular-season opponent.
Neither rematch went well for the Panthers.
In 2015, UNI lost for the second time to eventual national champion North Dakota State, 23-13, in the quarterfinals. In 2014, Illinois State avenged a regular-season loss to the Panthers with a 41-21 second-round victory in Normal, Illinois.
For the third straight playoffs, UNI will tangle with a familiar foe when the Panthers face fifth-seeded South Dakota State Saturday in Brookings, S.D., at 2 p.m.
UNI ruined the Jacks’ homecoming, 38-18, on Oct. 14.
The Panthers have had success in Brookings, winning six of the last nine times they have ventured north, but this scenario is different.
UNI head coach Mark Farley says while his team needs to stick to the identity that got it to this point, some things will be different.
“We have to find a way to go back to Brookings and find a way to win there again,” Farley said Monday. “Last time we had a good plan and good execution.
“This time it is a different game. It’s starting from scratch and seeing what we can put together.”
Asked if it was a disadvantage or advantage for South Dakota State to have a first-round playoff bye while the Panthers whipped Monmouth 46-7, Farley said that is an easy answer.
“I’d have taken the bye if you give it to me,” he said. “That is good to say when you don’t have a bye. It is a lot easier to say you can get your team healthy, spend a couple of weeks getting ready for a team.”
Another thing Farley and his team know —South Dakota State is relishing a second crack at the Panthers.
“We know they are going to give it their best shot coming from last game,” cornerback Malcolm Washington said. “We have to go in there and use our preparation to be better. It is going to be tough. We can’t let the outside noise get in from us winning the last time. That game is gone.”
The Jackrabbits feel like they handed a lot to the Panthers in the first game, including a muffed punt, an interception, a missed field goal and a bobbled snap on another field goal attempt as UNI raced out to a 24-6 halftime lead.
“That was the biggest part of the game — not the turnovers, but the adversity we did not handle,” South Dakota State head coach John Stiegelmeier said after the UNI loss. “We didn’t rise up and say, ‘We’ve got to do more’’. We said, ‘Oh no, what’s gonna happen?’ When you do that, you’ve got a chance for something ugly to happen.”
The Jacks have not lost since UNI beat them, winning five straight, including victories over North Dakota State, Illinois State, Western Illinois and South Dakota.
“It’s the same for us ... when we lost to Western Illinois, we wish we could go back and play them again,” Washington said. “I’m sure they (the Jackrabbits) are ready to play us again. We just have to be ready to take their best shot.”
The forecast for Brookings Saturday is for cloudy skies with the highs in the mid-40s, much different than the chilly, rainy day the two teams had back in October.
Asked if he plans on practicing outside this week, Farley said he’d love to, but the logistics and timing really don’t allow it.
“Our problem with practicing outside is daylight savings time,” Farley said. “It is not the weather. It is not the field. It is daylight savings time. It gets dark at 5.
“That is our problem with going outside.”