College football: SDSU Jackrabbits complete undefeated regular season with victory over Missouri State

South Dakota State wide receiver Jadon Janke makes a diving catch in the second quarter of a game against Missouri State at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Janke caught 10 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown in a 35-17 win over the Bears. (Chris Schad/Register)

BROOKINGS — South Dakota State continued to look dominant on Saturday as the Jackrabbits capped off  a perfect season and beat Missouri State 35-17 on Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

SDSU went 11-0 and it’s the first time in program history that a team  has finished the regular season with a perfect record. Jackrabbit head coach Jimmy Rogers said he was proud of the accomplishment because it’s never been done.

“Conference champs. 11-0 for the first time in school history. We just did something that the school has never seen before. Although there were a lot of expectations that we should do this, it still takes a lot of work and a lot of commitment and a certain level of focus to be able to get it done,” Rogers said.

Mark Gronowski was 16-for-23 on the day for 323 yards and two touchdowns. The 323 yards were a new career-high and Rogers said Gronowski took what the defense gave him because the Bears were stacking the box to stop the Jackrabbit rushing attack.

“I think that’s what has been people’s game plan to try to stop us. Slow down the run game. But we have a really talented quarterback and elite wide receivers on the perimeter,” Rogers said.

Jadon Janke also set a new career-high in both receptions and receiving yards in a game as he had 10 catches for 187 yards. It was the second-straight week he set a career-high in receiving yards and he said that the Jacks have been seeing a lot of man coverage and they’ve exploited it.

“All of the one-on-one defense we’re seeing makes it a lot easier as a receiver to go out and run my route against one guy who’s trying to stop me. [Gronowski] has been putting it in the right spots and it’s been good,” Jadon Janke said.

MSU got the ball first and went three and out. It didn’t take long for the Jacks to score first as their first drive was just six plays. A 35-yard pass from Mark Gronowski to Jaxon Janke set up SDSU at the MSU two yard line and Gronowski took it into the end zone himself to give SDSU a 7-0 lead just over four minutes into the game.

Missouri State then moved the ball well on its second drive of the game and worked its way inside the SDSU 10 yard line. Cade Terveer then sacked Jordan Pachot on third and goal, forcing a field goal attempt. Owen Ronzanc came on for a 33-yard attempt and knocked it through to make it 7-3 with just under four minutes to play in the first quarter.

SDSU scored quick once again and this time it took the Jacks five plays to score. This time it was a 31-yard pass from Gronowski to Zach Heins and SDSU led 14-3 with 43 seconds left in the first half.

The Jackrabbit defense forced a three-and-out once again on the Bears next drive. Isaiah Davis then capped off a 10-play 74-yard drive with a one yard touchdown and the Jacks led 21-3 with eight minutes to play in the half.

SDSU then got the ball on its own 10 with just under five minutes left in the first half and the first turnover of the game happened. Angel Johnson fumbled the ball and Caleb Blake fell on it at the SDSU 15. However, the Jackrabbit defense rose to the occasion again and forced another field goal. Rozanc came on for a 36-yard attempt this time and he pushed it wide right and the Bears weren’t able to cash in any points off of the turnover.

SDSU worked its way into field goal range before the end of the half. Hunter Dustman attempted a 46-yard field goal as time expired and it hit off the left upright to make the halftime score 21-3.

Dustman had to punt for the first time in the game on SDSU’s first drive of the second half. MSU then went 93 yards in seven plays and Pachot found Hunter Wood for a three-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-10 with just under eight minutes to play in the third.

The Jacks responded right away as they went 68 yards in 11 plays. Amar Johnson patiently worked his way into the end zone from two yards out and the Jacks took a 28-10 lead into the fourth quarter.

Jadon Janke would then cap off his career day with a 36-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. That put the exclamation point on the win as SDSU went up 35-10 with just under five minutes to play. 

MSU would get on the board one more time as Pachot connected with Wood again for a score. This one was from 40 yards out and that made the final 35-17.

SDSU had 477 yards of offense. The Jacks had 154 yards on the ground. Davis led the way with 85 yards on 17 carries. Amar Johnson had 10 carries for 45 yards.

Jaxon Janke had three catches for 65 yards. Heins lone catch was the 31-yard touchdown.

The Bears had 343 yards of offense. Pachot was 23-for-35 with 261 yards. Raylen Sharpe had eight catches for 86 yards. Wood had four catches for 78 yards.

SDSU has 34 seniors on its roster and for some of them it was their final regular season game at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday. Rogers said this senior class is special because a lot of them came back for an extra season when they didn’t have to.

“A lot of these guys didn’t have to come back and they came back and they came back together. A lot of them could be selfish for their own personal reasons and they’re not. They’re unbelievable leaders, they’re committed to the team and they work extremely hard and deserve every bit of this season,” Rogers said.

This senior class was a part of the first national championship in program history last season and all but one starter that could come back did. Rogers said his players had offers to transfer elsewhere after they won the title, but they decided to come back and try to go back-to-back, which is something you don’t see in this day and age of college football.

“COVID, although a lot of programs took a hit during that time, I give us a lot of credit for us having a lot of seniors returning. Our players stay committed to this program. When other people looked to leave to go to other programs, our guys stayed here and stayed committed to the values and what we’re about. I think that’s a statement in itself. We’ve had a lot of guys have a lot of opportunities to go elsewhere and play for money and play at a higher level and there’s brotherhood here that’s really strong and it bleeds through the locker room,” Rogers said.

With the win SDSU secured the No. 1 seed in the FCS Playoffs for the second consecutive season. The Jackrabbits will have a bye next weekend and will find out who their second round opponent could be tomorrow at 11:30 a.m. as the FCS Playoffs selection show will air on ESPNU.

Gronowski said it’s going to be nice to have a week off to get ready for another national title run.

“It’s going to be a good week next week to get some of our guys' feet up and relax a little bit, but also getting that work in every day and getting our young guys acclimated and getting them more opportunities. It’s going to be a good week and we could use it as a team,” Gronowski said.