Illinois State football earns at-large playoff berth

Illinois State football coach Brock Spack waits at Hancock Stadium with coaches, players and fans for the announcement of the FCS playoff bracket. (Craig Bertsche/WJBC)

By Greg Halbleib

NORMAL – Illinois State has earned a berth in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs and will travel about four hours south for their first round game.

The Redbirds (8-4) will visit Southeast Missouri State (9-3) for an opening round contest at 1 p.m. Saturday at Houck Field in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Illinois State coach Brock Spack was not surprised to see the Redhawks as the Redbirds’ opening opponent.

“This morning when I started thinking about it I thought it would be us against (Austin) Peay or SEMO,” Spack said at a watch party at Hancock Stadium shortly after hearing the selection. “Maybe I thought we’d host but I get it. Austin Peay and SEMO were co-champs of the OVC and Austin Peay won the head-to-head matchup so I thought we wouldn’t play them. I think that’s worked out well for us.”

Illinois State earned its first playoff selection since 2016. The Redbirds concluded the regular season with a 21-3 loss at Youngstown State and was ranked as high as Number 6 in the final regular season polls.

SEMO clinched a share of the Ohio Valley Conference title with a 31-24 victory over Murray State on Saturday. The Redhawks are ranked Number 12 in the latest poll.

The Missouri Valley Football Conference placed four teams in the 24-team field including Illinois State. North Dakota State has the overall top seed while South Dakota State has the seventh seed. Northern Iowa also made the field.

Sports Director Greg Halbleib can be reached at greg@wjbc.com. 

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