Jackrabbits run over UC Davis in FCS playoffs

Dave Eggen/Inertia Sports Media: South Dakota State’s Adam Bock (32) sizes up UC Davis’ Ulonzo Gilliam, Jr. (34) for the tackle during the Jackrabbits’ 56-24 win in the first round of the 2021 FCS playoffs.

BROOKINGS – After missing eight games with a shoulder injury, Isaiah Davis – playing in his second game since returning to the field – showed the nation what a backfield tandem of he and Pierre Strong Jr. are capable of.

Davis ran for 217 yards on 15 carries with a score, Strong Jr. added 172 yards on 19 carries also with a touchdown, as the Jackrabbits amassed 433 yards on the ground in a 56-24 rout of UC Davis in front of 3,681 fans at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium, the Jacks’ 10th-straight appearance in the FCS playoffs.

With all the firepower from the offense it would be easy to overlook what the SDSU defense did to the Aggies.

SDSU intercepted six UC Davis passes to tie a twice-matched team record for picks in a game.

The two times a Jackrabbit team had six picks in a game? It’s been awhile. Oct. 3, 1952 in a 47-6 win over Augustana, and Sept. 9, 1950, a 39-7 win against St. Cloud State.

Dalys Beanum accounted for three of the six interceptions, his third coming in the final quarter and returned 59 yards for the second SDSU pick-six of the game after Adam Bock retuned a third-quarter interception 39 yards to open the second-half scoring.

Despite the final score the Jacks didn’t exactly come out of the gate quickly, a sign which could have been viewed as worrisome coming from a team who two weeks prior lost to in-state rival USD on a last-second play and a week later won, albeit in underwhelming fashion, against UND to close the regular season.

UC Davis took the opening kickoff and marched 60 yards before settling for a 32-yard Isaiah Gomez field goal to give the Aggies a 3-0 lead. A 23-yard completion from Miles Hastings to C.J. Hutton and Ulonzo Gilliam’s 19-yard rush on back-to-back plays keyed the Aggie drive.

After starting on their own 13, Davis ripped off a ten-yard gain to open the drive, followed up by Jaxon Janke hauling in a 13-yard pass from Chris Oladokun.

Tucker Kraft’s first catch of the day moved SDSU to the UCD 40, but a fumbled handoff on second down forced the Jacks into third-and-long. They would ultimately settle for a 50-yard field goal attempt from Cole Frahm which sailed wide left.

SDSU got on the board later in the quarter when Strong Jr. scored from the wildcat to give the Jacks a 7-3 lead. Davis’ 53-yard scamper on the drive setup the go-ahead score.

On their last drive of the first half with a stiff north wind at their back Frahm misfired from 56 yards while looking to extend the Jackrabbit lead.

With the wind in the second quarter the Aggies caught a break. Punting from their own 46, UC Davis’ Jordan Perryman had the ball bounce right into his hands after being muffed by Tyler Feldkamp, setting up the Aggies with a first-and-goal.

Aided by a pass interference call on third down and with a new set of downs, Hastings found Hutton from four yards to give the Aggies the 10-7 lead.

That lead was short-lived.

Strong Jr. found open running room for 24 yards, then 31 yards, quickly moving to the UCD 25. After picking up seven more yards Strong gave way to Davis who finished the drive himself, scoring from 18 yards to give the lead back to the Jacks at 14-10.

After a three-and-out it was again the Davis and Strong Jr. show as the latter gained 67 yards on three carries before Strong Jr.’s arm and not his legs added to the Jackrabbit lead, tossing ten yards to Oladokun for the score. For Strong Jr. it was his sixth career touchdown pass.

SDSU’s Cade Terveer took back possession for SDSU on the next drive, snatching a tipped pass for the interception, and just one play from Oladokun to Jadon Janke for 33 yards gave the homestanding Rabbits a 28-10 lead.

Beanum made it consecutive interceptions for the Jacks defense on Hastings’ first pass of their next drive, but Frahm again missed while fighting a swirling wind at the north end of the field as SDSU failed to extend their lead.

A Gilliam score on the Aggies’ next drive made it 28-17 with 47 seconds left until the half, and they would threaten to add more after SDSU used just 22 seconds on their drive, giving UC Davis possession near midfield. However, Gomez’s 51-yard field goal attempt landed short and left as time expired and the Jackrabbit lead remained 11.

The Aggies switched quarterbacks at the half and Bock coldly greeted new signal-caller Hunter Rodrigues, snagging a deflected pass and returning it for the touchdown.

Don Gardner got in on the action on the Aggies’ next drive, securing the Jacks’ fourth interception of the game.

Facing third-and-19, Oladokun scrambled for 20 yards to keep the SDSU drive alive, and three plays later found tight-end Zach Heins from four yards out to extend the lead to 42-17.

Beanum added his second interception a minute into the fourth quarter, stepping in front of a Rodrigues pass into the end zone.

Strong Jr. picked up 51 yards on two carries to open the subsequent SDSU drive and was a yard short of finding the end zone through a rugby scrum when the ball popped out, but Brookings’ own Gus Miller was in the right place at the right time, cradling the fumble for a touchdown to further expand the margin to 49-17.

Beanum’s third pick of the game came a few minutes later and the sophomore weaved his way 59 yards to put the Jacks up 56-17.

“At the timeout before (his third interception of the game) everyone was telling me to ‘get three’,” Beanum said. “When I saw the ball in the air, I just attacked it and then when I was at about the 30-yard line I was like, I’ve got to get in the end zone now.”

It was his second interception-return touchdown of the season, the other coming against Dixie State in October.

Beanum’s three-interception game gave the Jacks six for the game, and for Beanum, he equaled Tyler Koch in 2007 as the last Jackrabbit with three picks in a game.

SDSU’s 28-point second half and defensive effort backed up their halftime locker room talk.

“Let’s not let them back in,” coach John Stiegelmeier said. “We were not sharp at the end of the second quarter, and they were. But we responded really well.”

Winning how they did on Saturday was significant and proved a point to anyone who might have been doubting this Jackrabbit team as they entered the postseason.

“I felt like today was a statement day,” Davis said, “to let everybody know we’re going to bring it. We just tried to do the things we’ve done all year. It was good to have a dominating game to prove how we can run the ball.

Oladokun only threw for 89 yards in the win, completing just eight passes on 17 attempts, but did have a pair of touchdowns, as well as his third-down scramble to keep a drive alive.

Jadon Janke had two receptions for 41 yards and a touchdown and brother Jaxon also had two catches for 18 yards. Kraft added a pair of receptions, as well, for 16 yards.

Rodrigues finished 19-of-27 for 146 yards with four interceptions for the Aggies, while Hastings completed 8-of-18 passes for 72 yards and two interceptions.

Gilliam led UC Davis both on the ground (ten carries for 73 yards and a touchdown) and through the air (eight catches for 55 yards).

Tolu Ogunrinde and Josh Manchigiah each recorded a sack on defense.

SDSU was led by Cale Reeder with eight tackles, while Logan Backhaus, Isaiah Stalbird, and Bock each added six tackles.

The 433 rushing yards was one off a school playoff record, and with the defensive effort, Stiegelmeier said the sideline vibe was, as expected, positive.

“It surely builds confidence anytime you can run the football,” Stiegelmeier said. “It builds confidence for the whole team; it brings us together.”

“On the sidelines, our offense and defense were really excited about the success both of them were having,” Stiegelmeier added.

Strong Jr.’s 172 yards moved him into third place on the career rushing list for SDSU with 4,330 yards, passing Kyle Minnett. Josh Ranek and Zach Zenner each sit atop the career rushing yards list, each with over 6,500 yards.

The Aggies, after starting their season 8-1, lost their final three games to end their season at 8-4.

SDSU is 9-3 and heads to the west coast for a matchup with fourth-seeded Sacramento State – a second straight meeting with a Big Sky team - on Saturday, Dec. 4. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. Central time.

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