College football: SDSU Jackrabbits ready to play football on the baseball diamond
BROOKINGS — South Dakota State and Drake will meet in an unfamiliar setting on Saturday as the two football teams will play a game on a baseball field at Target Field in Minneapolis.
The No. 1 ranked Jackrabbits and Bulldogs will play the third-ever football game at the home stadium of the Minnesota Twins. Now-Division I and fellow Summit League school St. Thomas beat arch rival St. John’s on the diamond in 2017 with the Tommies coming away with a 20-17 win. North Dakota State then met Butler in Minneapolis in 2019 and the Bison dominated the Bulldogs, 59-17.
SDSU head coach Jimmy Rogers said he and his team are excited for the opportunity to play at a different venue.
“It’s exciting to play at a different venue for one, but also a place that’s huge for recruiting. It’s also just Target Field and what that experience will be like. I think the guys will enjoy it and it will be a cool experience for them. I’ve never played on a baseball field in my life, as far as football. We’re going to embrace every bit of it and enjoy every moment that we’re there and have fun competing against a good football team,” he said.
The football field will be set up down the third baseline and the dirt will remain in the infield. Rogers said where the dirt is on the field is the only thing that will make things different.
“I believe our guys are going to be able to step on the field prior. We were there as a staff when [the Twins] honored the 2022 national championship team and I think the most unique thing will be the dirt in the infield and where exactly that sits on the field. We know which way were going and where we’ll be stationed at, but as far as where the dirt lies and where the mound is actually at, that will be the most unique part,” Rogers said.
Drake comes into the game struggling as the Bulldogs are 0-2 and lost to NAIA school Northwestern (Iowa) 27-24 in overtime last week. The Bulldogs lost to No. 17 North Dakota 55-7 in their season opener and even though Drake is one of the weaker opponents on SDSU’s schedule, Rogers says he refuses to overlook anyone after what happened in the first game of his SDSU career.
• When: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Target Field in Minneapolis
• The series (14th meeting): Drake leads the all-time series 8-5, but the Jacks have won the past four meetings. SDSU won the last meeting 38-13 in Brookings.
• 2022 records: SDSU 2-0; Drake 0-2
• TV: Midco Sports, ESPN+
• Radio: 910 KJJQ
• Game notes: SDSU is coming off of a thrilling 20-16 win over No. 3 Montana State. Drake fell to 0-2 on the season after losing to NAIA Northwestern (Iowa) 27-24 in overtime.
This will be the third football game played in the 14-year history of Target Field. NDSU beat Butler in 2019 and St. Thomas beat St. Johns in 2017.
“At the end of the day, we need to play our best football, regardless of where we play. You work all year long for these opportunities. To take a game for granted, we’re not going to do that. I lost to Wisconsin-La Crosse, a Division III school, in my first game and it was an embarrassing moment in my life. So to think I’m going to disrespect anybody based on who the other team played, I’m not,” Rogers said.
SDSU is coming off one of the biggest wins in regular season history as it beat No. 3 ranked Montana State 20-16 this past weekend. In the game, the Jackrabbits struggled on special teams, specifically early in the fourth quarter.
After taking a 13-10 lead, Hunter Dustman missed an extra point. The ensuing kickoff returned 59 yards into Jackrabbit territory and less than two minutes later Dustman had a punt blocked and the Bobcats recovered on the SDSU one yard line, setting up a game-tying field goal.
SDSU released its players of the week on Monday on social media, which includes an offensive, defensive, offensive line, defensive line and special teams player. The special teams slot was left empty.
The Jacks hired a special teams coordinator in the offseason in Pat Cashmore, who played his college ball at Drake from 2007-2011. Rogers said he believes Cashmore will be able to fix the mistakes as SDSU heads into the game against Cashmore’s alma mater.
“I’m expecting [the special teams] to be cleaned up,” Rogers said. “… Some of those [mistakes] are one or two guys not doing their job. The punt block was one guy missing a block and getting a different look than we had in practice. We have to execute in critical moments. To say it’s all scheme, it’s not. There’s some personal accountability that has to be had.
“It’s our job to put them in the right situations and we’ll get better. I’m not as concerned for special teams. I’ve witnessed what we’ve been able to do and how fast our guys have been able to play in spring ball and fall camp. We will be better on special teams.”
Cashmore isn’t the only connection between the two programs as Drake has two former SDSU graduate assistants on its coaching staff in secondary coaches CJ Butt and Sean Hupke.
“We’ve had two graduate assistants go there and become assistant coaches for them, so they know what we do defensively,” Rogers said. “We have to change some things because I know those coaches will be up for this game as well.”
The final tie between SDSU And Drake is from Jackrabbit starting quarterback Mark Gronowski as his father, Ray, played quarterback for Drake. Mark, who is from Naperville, Illinois, said he’s excited to play on a baseball field because he watched Northwestern play Illinois at Wrigley Field in Chicago in 2010.
“I’m really excited. It’s been a dream of mine [to play football on a baseball field] after watching Northwestern play at Wrigley Field as a kid. I think it’s going to be a really cool experience,” Gronowski said.
Rogers is equally excited to get out on the baseball diamond as baseball was right up there with football as his favorite sport when he was growing up.
“I grew up playing baseball and I love baseball. Honestly, I contemplated playing baseball over football when I made the decision to play college football. That was kind of my first love growing up. We were able to go to the Minnesota Twins game when they honored us and just stepping out on that field, it was special and it made me relive some glory days when I was a kid,” Rogers said.
Playing at a major league baseball stadium is one of the perks of being ranked No. 1 in the country and being the defending FCS National Champions, but Rogers thinks it’s more than that. He said it says a lot about where SDSU athletics is at as a whole.
“This is the rise of the brand of South Dakota State athletics,” he said. “We’ve been blessed to have continued success here. Obviously, being ranked No. 1 in the country, that draws attention. But playing in a venue like this, it has everything to do with years of success. It has nothing to do with last year’s success, it’s a continued brand of success.”
It has everything to do with seeing the Jackrabbit logo. It’s our men’s basketball team, our women’s basketball team, our wrestling team. It’s South Dakota State athletics and we’re blessed to be able to represent South Dakota State football on a national stage at a national venue.”
Kickoff between SDSU and Drake is set for 2:30 p.m. You can watch the game on Midco Sports or ESPN+ and listen to the game on AM 910 KJJQ or the Jackrabbit Sports Network.