Frisco bound

Dave Eggen/Inertia: Above, South Dakota State’s Pierre Strong Jr. celebrates a touchdown during the Jackrabbits’ 33-3 defeat of Delaware in the FCS Playoffs semifinals Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings. The top-seeded Jackrabbits, who improved to 9-1, advanced to the title game for the first time in program history. They face No. 2 Sam Houston State in the championship matchup Sunday at 1 p.m. at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas. Below, South Dakota State’s Caleb Sanders (99) bears down on Delaware quarterback Nolan Henderson during the Jackrabbits’ 33-3 win.

Jackrabbits handle Fightin’ Blue Hens in semis, 33-3

BROOKINGS – For the first time in program history, South Dakota State is going to the FCS national championship game.

The top-seeded Jackrabbits beat Delaware 33-3 in a dominating performance Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

“I’m really proud of our football program,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “I know you get tired of me saying that, but that’s my feelings. They believe, they work harder than I can imagine. We beat a good football team. .. I’m just proud of our football.”

SDSU racked up 354 total yards of offense while holding the Blue Hens to 216 total yards. The Jackrabbit defense had a season-high seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss as they dominated up front all game. 

Mark Gronowski continued his standout freshman season with another great performance. He had 213 yards and three total touchdowns.

The Jacks had 168 rushing yards. Pierre Strong Jr. led the way with 73 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Isaiah Davis had nine carries for 70 yards. Jaxon Janke logged three catches for 64 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams punted on their opening drive. Delaware’s time-consuming drive stalled out at the SDSU 5-yard-line when quarterback Nolan Henderson was sacked. The Blue Hens converted a 29-yard field goal to make it 3-0 with 3:44 left in the first quarter.

SDSU then drove 58 yards in seven plays, capped off by a 30-yard touchdown pass from Gronowski to Janke. SDSU led 7-3 with 13 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Jacks forced the Blue Hens into a three and out and then opened up the playbook on offense. SDSU was on the Delaware 24 when Gronowski threw the ball to Strong, who threw the ball back to Gronowski across the field and he had a convoy leading him to the end zone for the touchdown to put the Jacks up 14-3 with 12:18 left in the first half.

“I was surprised we ran that play. I didn’t think we were going to bring it out unless we absolutely needed it. … The fact that it worked, I wasn’t really expecting it to work out that well. I’m happy for Pierre to get that passing touchdown and for Mark to get his first receiving touchdown as well,” Janke said.

SDSU forced another three and out and Janke had a 55-yard punt return that put the Jacks at the Delaware 27. SDSU then ran it four consecutive times and punched it into the end zone on a 3-yard run from Strong.

And the rout was on.

Delaware worked its way to the SDSU side of the field, but the Blue Hens were forced to kick a 53-yard field goal. The Jacks blocked the kick and got the ball on their own 36. SDSU scored one more time before the half ended as Gronowski found Blake Kunz for a 14-yard touchdown to make it 27-3 at the break.

Cole Frahm made a 41-yard field goal with 8:23 left in the third quarter to push the margin to 30-3. Delaware then went on a 9 minute drive but was stopped on fourth down at the SDSU 5 and that was all she wrote.

Quarterback Nolan Henderson led the way for the Blue Hens. He was 18-for-21 with 121 yards. He ran the ball 20 times and only had 14 yards because of the sacks. SDSU held Delaware to 68 yards rushing.

Frisco, Texas – the site of the national championship game – is a place that SDSU has been working to get to for the past 10 seasons. 

“[Winning this game] means a ton. It’s a really special moment for me. Having been here for as long as I have. For everybody that’s ever worn a Jackrabbit uniform and I’ve gotten to know a lot of them over the years. … Love our players. Thank God for our players and it means a lot. It means a lot,” Stiegelmeier said.

With that being said, the main goal for the Jacks is still ahead of them. Win the national championship.

“When you say you want to win a national championship or you say that’s one of your goals, you need to get to Frisco to be able to have a shot at that. To me, [winning] was a step towards that goal. But what I hope and what I expect and what I demand is that we’re not giddy at getting there, but we’re excited about having the opportunity to play for a national championship and we approach it with a mature approach and a real focused approach and I think our guys will do that. We have tremendous leadership,” Stiegelemeier said.

SDSU will take on No. 2 Sam Houston State on Sunday at 1 p.m. at Toyota Stadium. The game will air live on ABC.

No. 1 SOUTH DAKOTA STATE 33, DELAWARE 3

UD     (7-1) 3    0  0  0      3

SDSU (8-1) 7  20  3  3    33

First Quarter

UD – Ryan Coe 29 FG, 3:44

SDSU – Jaxon Janke 30 pass from Mark Gronowski (Cole Frahm kick), :13

Second Quarter

SDSU – Gronowski 24 pass from Pierre Strong Jr (Frahm kick), 12:18

SDSU – Strong 3 run (Frahm kick), 8:22

SDSU – Blake Kunz 14 pass from Gronowski (Frahm kick), :21

Third Quarter

SDSU – Frahm 41 FG, 8:23

Fourth Quarter

SDSU – Frahm 22 FG, 7:22

UD SDSU

First Downs 16 17

Plays-Yards 68-216 49-354

Rushes-Yards 45-68 32-168

C-A-Int.-Yards 19-23-0-148 11-17-0-186

Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0

Penalties-Yards 2-22 0-0

Punts-Avg.-I20-TB 4-42-1-0 3-47.7-1-0

Kickoffs-Avg.-TB 2-64.5-1 7-56.4-1

Punt Returns-Yards-TD 0-0-0 1-55-0

Kickoff Returns-Yards-TD 4-89-0 1-41-0

Interception Returns-Yards-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0

Fumble Returns-Yards-TD 0-0-0 0-0-0

Miscellaneous Yards 0 0

Possession Time 37:05 22:55

Third-down Conversions 6-of-16 3-of-9

Fourth-down Conversions 1-of-3 1-of-1

Red Zone Chances-TD-FG 2-0-1 3-2-1

Sacks By-Yards 0-0 7-51

Field Goals 1-for-2 2-for-2

RUSHING: DU – Khory Spruill 6-16, Nolan Henderson 20-14, Gene Coleman 1-12, Dejoun Lee 11-9, Anthony Paoletti 4-8, Thyrick Pitts 2-8, Zach Gwynn 1-1. SDSU – Pierre Strong Jr. 14-73, Isaiah Davis 9-70, Mark Gronowski 7-27, Jordan Meachum 1-1, Keaton Heide 1-(-3).

PASSING: UD – Nolan Henderson 18-21-0-142, Gene Coleman 0-1-0-0, Zach Gwynn 1-1-0-6. SDSU – Mark Gronowski 10-16-0-162, Pierre Strong Jr. 1-1-0-24.

RECEIVING: UD – Gene Coleman II 6-43, Dejoun Lee 3-29, Khory Spruill 2-27, Bryce De Maille 2-11, Luke Frederick 1-7, Dillon Zimmerman 1-5, Brett Buckman 1-5, Jourdan Townsend 1-1. SDSU – Jaxon Janke 3-64, Blake Kunz 2-25, Pierre Strong Jr. 2-13, Isaiah Davis 1-36, Mark Gronowski 1-24, Tucker Kraft 1-19, Zach Heins 1-5.

DEFENSE: UD – Noah Plack six tackles. SDSU – Logan Backhaus 12 tackles, 2.5 sacks, blocked FG; Preston Tetzlaff 12 tackles, FF; Reece Winkelman 9 tackles, sack; Adam Bock 6 tackles, sack; Quinton Hicks 4 tackles, .5 sack; Caleb Sanders 2 sacks; Jaron DePriest sack.

   A –  4,527.

 No. 2 Sam Houston State 38, No. 3 James Madison 35

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) – Jequez Ezzard’s catch-and-run for a touchdown and punt return for a score were among two of three touchdowns Sam Houston State scored in the last 2 1/2 minutes of the third quarter en route to a 38-35 comeback win against James Madison on Saturday.

“At no point I thought we would lose,” Bearkats coach K.C. Keeler said in an interview after the game.

Second-seeded Sam Houston State (9-0) advances to the FCS title game to face No. 1-seed South Dakota State (8-1) on Sunday in Frisco, Texas. The Jackrabbits dismantled Delaware 33-3 earlier Saturday. It’s the Bearkats’ first trip to the title game since losing in 2012 to North Dakota State.

James Madison led 24-3 at halftime and were up 27-10 with three minutes left in the third before Ezzard struck.

Eric Schmid threw a slant to Ezzard who caught the ball about 14 yards into his route and he took it the rest of the way for a 69-yard touchdown reducing the deficit to 27-17. 

After forcing James Madison to three-and-out, Ezzard ran back a punt 80 yards to cut the lead to three. Zyon McCollum then picked off Cole Johnson after his pass bounced off the hands of his intended receiver on the Dukes’ first play of the drive.

Schmid ran it in from 20 yards out as time expired to end the third quarter for a 31-27 Sam Houston State lead it never gave back.

Ezzard finished with 107 yards receiving on four receptions.

Johnson threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns for James Madison.

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