NORMAL — Emotions ran particularly high Saturday on a day Dalton Keene will not soon forget.
Illinois State’s standout defensive tackle played his final Redbird game as part of a true family affair.
“I told myself I wasn’t going to cry, and I’m pretty well off right now,” Keene said after ISU’s 20-7 loss to North Dakota State at Hancock Stadium. “But it is what it is. Nobody can play this game forever. It’s a matter of time.”
Keene was among the Redbird seniors honored before the game. He was joined by sister Jaelyn, a standout on the ISU volleyball team, and parents Steve Keene and Rose VanEgmond.
Keene then went to Redbird Arena where he joined his parents as Jaelyn was honored on her Senior Night.
After the football game, Dalton was seriously considering letting his parents accompany Jaelyn by themselves.
“I want to make sure she has the recognition she deserves,” he said. “She’s had an outstanding career. It’s her venue, her night. I want to make sure everything is on her. I had my time.”
Keene’s time as a Redbird included a second-team all-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection as a junior and is a solid bet to be somewhere on the league’s all-star team this year as well.
“I’ve done everything I wanted to do as a Redbird,” said Keene. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity. It’s a true brotherhood here at Illinois State.”
Keene had eight tackles and two sacks in his final game to finish the season with 45 tackles and eight sacks.
“Dalton got his stinger back a little bit. He was a little slower the past couple weeks,” ISU coach Brock Spack said. “It looked like he played well to me against a good front.”
Five MVFC teams in playoffs: While ISU’s streak of three straight seasons in the FCS playoffs ended Sunday with the announcement of the 24-team bracket, five Valley teams did make the field.
North Dakota State (10-1) was the No. 2 overall seed and will meet either San Diego or Northern Arizona in the second round at the Fargodome.
South Dakota State (9-2) also received a first-round bye as the No. 5 seed and will play host to the winner of a first-round game that sends Monmouth to the UNI-Dome to face Northern Iowa (7-4).
Western Illinois (8-3) travels to Weber State and South Dakota (7-4) has a road matchup with Nicholls State in the opening round.
ISU stays in top 25: The Redbirds dropped two spots to No. 23 in the final regular-season national rankings of STATS announced Sunday.
North Dakota State is No. 4, South Dakota State No. 6, Western Illinois No. 9, South Dakota No. 16 and Northern Iowa No. 20.
Picked 5th, finished 5th: ISU was listed fifth in the MVFC’s preseason poll. The Redbirds finished tied for fifth with South Dakota and Youngstown State at 4-4.
The voters correctly predicted North Dakota State to win the league. South Dakota State was forecast for second and tied for second with Northern Iowa.