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Southern Illinois receiver Cox confident as Salukis head into 2nd-round FCS playoff matchup against Bison

Southern Illinois wide receiver Avante Cox is coming off a 10-catch performance in the first round of the Division I FCS playoffs.

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Southern Illinois' wide receiver Avante Cox pulls away from North Dakota State's Dom Jones on a long pass reception on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Carbondale, Ill. David Samson / The Forum
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FARGO — Southern Illinois junior wide receiver Avante Cox and the Salukis will have recent success to draw from this weekend when they play North Dakota State in the second round of the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Salukis (8-4) play the No. 2-seeded Bison (10-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome with the winner advancing to the FCS quarterfinals. The Missouri Valley Football Conference foes most recently played last spring. SIU scored a decisive 38-14 victory against the Bison last February in Carbondale, Ill., ending NDSU’s 39-game winning streak.

“We know that we can beat them because we did it last spring, same exact guys on the field,” said Cox, from Rochester, Ill. “We know that they can be beat and we’re definitely going up there trying to do that.”

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  • UND running back Otis Weah of Moorhead enters transfer portal The former Spuds standout and Football Championship Subdivision All-American recently completed his junior season at UND, leading the team with 818 rushing yards on 159 carries. Weah was a breakout star for UND in the COVID-affected FCS spring season, putting together what his biography on the team's website said was "one of the top seasons by a running back in program history."
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  • Bison Video Blog: 2021 NDSU Football vs SIU Join WDAY's Dom Izzo and The Forum's Jeff Kolpack as they keep you up to date with all of the latest NDSU Bison news.

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Southern Illinois' wide receiver Avante Cox carries on a reverse against North Dakota State on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2021, in Carbondale, Ill. David Samson / The Forum
Forum Communications Co.

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Cox has been one of SIU's top playmakers this fall with 43 catches for 739 yards and five touchdowns in 10 games. Senior wide receiver Landon Lenoir leads the Salukis in receiving with 59 receptions for 855 yards and nine touchdowns in 12 games.

“Their entire wide receiver group might be the most talented group in the league,” said Bison head coach Matt Entz.

The Salukis are coming off a 22-10 road victory over South Dakota, another MVFC foe, last weekend in the opening round of the FCS playoffs. Cox had a stellar performance with 10 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s not a guy who dances around a lot,” Southern Illinois head coach Nick Hill said. “It’s one cut and he just goes. … He’s a tough kid that competes at a high level.”

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Southern Illinois wide receiver Avante Cox had 10 catches for 148 yards and a touchdown in a road victory against South Dakota last weekend in the first round of the FCS playoffs. Saluki Athletics photo

Cox relishes the chance to play in front of a large crowd at the Fargodome after coming off a road victory against the Coyotes.

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“I embrace big games,” Cox said. “I love the feeling of going somewhere and showing out in front of their own home stadium.”

Southern Illinois got off to a strong start this season, winning six of their first seven games, with the only loss coming at Kansas State, an FBS opponent. The Salukis, however, lost three of their final four games in the regular season before their playoff win at South Dakota.

Cox said the Salukis didn’t play up to their potential to close out the regular season.

“We didn’t come out and attack,” Cox said. “We played down to the level of competition that they had.”

Cox started his college career at Wyoming, where he played two seasons for former NDSU head coach Craig Bohl. He then transferred to Southern Illinois, where he was reunited with Nic Baker, his quarterback at Rochester High School. The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Baker has completed 242 of 388 passes (62%) for 3,026 yards and 26 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for the Salukis this fall.

“I knew that he could do it and ball out when I got here,” Cox said. “Our chemistry has been there for seven years now.”

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Southern Illinois quarterback Nic Baker has passed for 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards through 12 games this season. Saluki Athletics photo

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Cox said Baker made his transition to SIU easier after Cox transferred from Wyoming. In three seasons with the Salukis, Cox has 156 catches for 2,194 yards and 15 touchdowns in 32 games. He’s also rushed for 495 yards and four TDs on 54 attempts.

“He’s got the vertical speed to get over the top of the defense,” Hill said.

Cox said the Salukis are primed for a strong performance against the Bison.

“All of our top players are just playing on their high horses right now. Nobody is taking a rep off,” Cox said. “We all know how we all play together. The chemistry is high on this team, the highest I’ve ever been with a team.”

Peterson covers college athletics for The Forum, including Concordia College and Minnesota State Moorhead. He also covers the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks independent baseball team and helps out with North Dakota State football coverage. Peterson has been working at the newspaper since 1996.
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