The Sioux Falls and Augustana campuses are separated by three blocks. On Saturday afternoon things will be even cozier when students and alumni from both universities squeeze into USF’s 4,000-seat Bob Young Field for the fourth edition of the renewed series between the schools.
The folks in Sioux Falls, S.D., are growing accustomed to this budding rivalry. After not having played each other since 1986 the renewal was made possible in 2012 when USF transitioned from NAIA, where the Cougars won three national titles in a four-year stretch from 2006-09, to Division II where they joined Augustana in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.
To spice things up the schools play for the Key to the City. The four-foot key designed by a local wood carver goes to the winner of each football game. Sioux Falls heads into Saturday’s game having won the first three and seniors like defensive back John Tidwell, who in the last two games against the Vikings totaled 10 tackles and broke up five passes, will be gunning to go four-for-four in their career against their city rival.
“It would be a great day for the program,” Tidwell said of what another victory would mean. "I go into this game thinking that the guys before me did not get a chance to play in this game. So I really lay it all on the line because they would have loved to have had a shot to play Augustana. It would be awesome to win again."
At least Augustana has the Mayor’s Cup in its possession. Also founded in 2012, the trophy is awarded to the school that wins an annual competition in 16 sports. It is just that the Vikings have yet to taste victory on the gridiron.
“We have been fortunate enough to receive the first three trophies since the Mayor’s Cup was developed,” said Slade Larscheid, Augustana’s athletic director. “We have not won in football yet, so we give USF a lot of credit. They have had very strong football programs and we have had some real good battles on the gridiron with them.”
Augustana quarterback Trey Heid has been a part of those battles. He produced 466 yards of total offense in the two previous meetings with the Cougars. However, the fourth-year junior has yet to experience a win.
“It is definitely big for bragging rights,” he said of the game. “There is a different level of energy at practice just because it is USF week. Any time you play a team that is a couple blocks down the road it is going to be a fun game and it is a fun environment. It is also a big game with playoff implications.”
That is definitely the case as Division II playoff implications ooze on either side. Augustana, which won all 18 games that were played from 1920-1986, enters the matchup 5-2. The Cougars are 7-0 and sporting a No. 5 ranking.
The importance of the game beyond the proximity of the schools is likely not lost on either fan base. When considering all that is on the line Josh Snyder, the athletic director at USF, is expecting both sides of the divide to be well represented Saturday.
“There has been a lot of buzz and it is hard to downplay the enthusiasm when the schools are only a couple of blocks away,” said Snyder, who noted that he and Larscheid at some point would like to mark the midway point between the two campuses with some kind of monument. “I think the city is very excited about it and I think it will play out that way Saturday when you look at our attendance numbers. There is a priority on this game from the fans’ standpoint. Both of our universities will bring out a good contingent and the city will embrace it as well.”
Wendy Dooley will be embracing the proceedings with her husband from their seats on the 40-yard line. She has lived in Sioux Falls for 21 years. The USF alum is currently a staff member with her alma mater’s school of business.
“As an alum who knows a lot of alumni on both sides, I know that a lot of people within (both campus communities) are really excited about the game,” said Dooley, who has followed the Cougars since the 1990s. “To say people are getting excited would be an understatement. Each year there is more momentum as more and more people hear about it.”
At the Augustana Mirror getting the word out is part of what Jacob Belgum does as sports editor at the school paper. There may not be much of any news for him to pass along as far as campus activities leading up to the game, but a festive atmosphere will be most evident Saturday.
“There is not much interaction between the two schools given how close they are,” he said. “We kind of go our separate ways and these rivalry games are about the only time people from both campuses come together. This is the game they have been looking forward to all season. The student sections will be a lot of fun.”
And so should this rivalry for years to come.
Above: Less than a mile separates two Division II football programs, that went 26 years without playing before renewing their series in 2012. (Google Maps)