SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The Missouri State Bears nearly pulled off an historic upset.

While the box scores were still hot off the printer.

“Our guys played extremely hard,” Bobby Petrino said on Saturday after the 38-27 loss to Arkansas. “We’ve got to try to build on that. We’ve got a really tough game next week, too. It just keeps getting better.”

The message was clear.

“We don’t expect anything less but to win,” Bears wide receiver Kevon Latulas said. “We go out with a fighting attitude every game. (What about this Saturday?) Yes sir. It doesn’t change.”

As Missouri State continues to improve, it seems yearly there is a new “biggest game” in team history.

This weekend will be the first time that a pair of top 5 teams will square off in Springfield.

The Bears ranked 4th in the coaches poll, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits are third.

“In this conference you have to be ready to play every single week because everybody we play has really good players and everybody we play is very well-coached,” Petrino said during his Monday press conference. “You can’t take a break. We are playing the number three team in the country, we ought to be ready to go.”

“It’s been a while,” Bears defensive end Kevin Ellis said about playing South Dakota State. “I am definitely looking forward to getting back out and playing them. I feel like it will definitely be a good game for us as a team and letting us know where we stand at.”

It’s the first time the Bears and Jackrabbits have played since 2019.

“I think we know how to get ready and prepare for big games,” Petrino said. “It’s nice to have at home. I’m hoping that we pack the stadium and have a huge home field advantage.”

As six MVFC teams begin conference play this weekend, the belief is that Missouri State, South Dakota State and North Dakota state are in a tier above the rest.

The Bears and Bison don’t play this year. Adding to the meeting with the Jackrabbits.

“It is definitely a big opportunity this weekend,” Ellis said. “We are looking forward to, we aren’t looking past any games, but we are looking forward to holding that trophy at the end of the year. We know that is our end goal so we are taking it one game at a time and just competing.”

Missouri State and South Dakota State is scheduled to kick at 2 on Saturday at Plaster Stadium.