FCS Playoffs: Illinois State at Southeast Missouri

NCAA Football

FCS First-Round Playoff

The Matchup – Illinois State (8-4, 5-3 Missouri Valley) at Southeast Missouri (9-3, 7-1 Ohio Valley)

Kickoff – 2 p.m. ET at Houck Field in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

Coverage – ESPN3

Series – Illinois State leads 7-3 (last meeting: Southeast Missouri won 38-33 in Normal, Illinois, on Sept. 22, 2001)

Coaches – Illinois State: Brock Spack (72-49, 11 seasons); Southeast Missouri: Tom Matukewicz (33-37, six seasons; 34-37 overall)

3 Players to Watch – Illinois State: RB James Robinson (1,316 rushing yards, 15 TDs), DE Romeo McKnight (50 tackles, 9 sacks), FS Luther Kirk (74 tackles, 3 pass breakups); Southeast Missouri: QB Daniel Santacaterina (2,366 passing yards, 22 total TDs), WR Kristian Wilkerson (1,236 receiving yards, 10 TDs, LB Zach Hall (113 tackles, 9 tackles for loss)

The Skinny – Illinois State’s offense has been devastated by injuries at quarterback and wide receiver and the Redbirds have not been above 28 points in eight straight games. Out of necessity, the Missouri Valley Football Conference squad will go heavy with Robinson (3,861 career rushing yards) to try to take pressure off freshman QBs Bryce Jefferson and Jack Baltz, who have stepped in for injured starter Brady Davis. The Redbirds are 13-2 in Robinson’s career when he has rushed for 100 or more yards. The defense has created havoc with 43 sacks and 27 takeaways just one year after those numbers were 15 and 18, respectively. Southeast Missouri is on a 13-game home winning streak. The Ohio Valley Conference co-champ has saved its best for last, scoring 121 points in the fourth quarter. In addition to the Santacaterina-to-Wilkerson passing combo, the Redhawks’ offense features a three-headed monster at running back with Zion Custis, Geno Hess and Mark Robinson, who have combined to rush for 1,732 yards and 18 TDs. Hall, the 2018 STATS FCS Buck Buchanan Award recipient as national defensive player of the year, has 396 career tackles – 28 shy of the school record.

Up Next – The winner will play at No. 8 seed Central Arkansas (9-3) in the second round Dec. 7.

Prediction – Illinois State is considered a slight road favorite, but the offensive injuries are hard to ignore. SEMO has a strong senior class that won a home playoff game last season. Southeast Missouri, 22-17.

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