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UNI hosts another FCS playoff game

CEDAR FALLS — The Northern Iowa football team has been waiting since the middle of November for their shot at redemption against South Dakota State.

The sixth-ranked Panthers will get that on Saturday when they visit the No. 12 Jackrabbits in the second round. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and the game will be available on ESPN3.

Following a convincing victory over San Diego last week, Northern Iowa (9-4 overall) started to focus in on SDSU (8-4), which earned a national seed, bye and home playoff game thanks in large part to their 38-7 regular season win over the Panthers.

“All the guys are eager and excited for Saturday,” former Bishop Garrigan standout Zac Kibby said. “Guys are locked in and focused a little more than usual it feels like. With our Monday meetings, we didn’t talk much about San Diego as that game has passed us. There wasn’t any time for celebration.

“It didn’t take any coaches to remind us who we play this week; guys came in on Monday locked in and all business.”

While they didn’t want to reflect on the victory over San Diego, Kibby does believe he will help them for SDSU. The two teams have split their last 10 meetings, with each winning five times against the other.

“We learned some things on offense, defense and special teams,” Kibby said. “It allowed us to find those flaws and correct them before SDSU, ultimately making us better players and a better team for it.

“In film we really broke it down to the little details more than usual.”

Kibby, a redshirt junior, averaged almost 37 yards per punt in the first round, including a long of 53 yards. Along with being a member of the secondary, he is the main punter for UNI, averaging over 39 yards per kick on the season.

The Panther coaches also made sure to take the players back to the loss to the Jackrabbits. South Dakota State scored 21 points in the fourth, holding Will McElvain and the UNI offense in-check.

“We watched clips from our last meeting with SDSU and I could tell that it fired some guys up,” Kibby said. “If we would have won that game earlier this year, they would have been playing while we would have been home for Thanksgiving.”

Kibby also noted that the feel around the team is much different than last year at this time.

“We were heading out to California to play UC Davis,” he said. “Not that it was any sort of vacation, but that was just cool to be playing out there.

“This game Saturday is nothing more than strictly a business trip, as we say. They really hit us in the mouth and woke us up. We won’t need any special pregame speech to fire us up this time.”

Along with Kibby, the UNI roster also features former Manson Northwest Webster and Iowa Central standout Tim Butcher along with ex-Tritons Joe Friedrich, Spencer Cuvelier, Jackson Martens and Roosevelt Lawrence.

The winner between Northern Iowa and South Dakota State advances to face either second-ranked James Madison or No. 11 Monmouth in the quarterfinals.