SDSU dominates Delaware in opening playoff game

(Kevin Maiers) South Dakota State quarterback Mark Gronowski runs the ball during a 42-6 win over Delaware in the second round of the FCS Playoffs at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings on Saturday.

BROOKINGS – No. 1 seeded South Dakota State showed why it was awarded the No. 1 seed in the FCS Playoffs on Saturday as the Jackrabbits put together a dominating 42-6 win over Delaware in the second round.

“I’m proud of these guys,” SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier said. “What does the win mean? I’m proud of these guys. They deserve it, and that’s not with arrogance. They work very hard and are a good football team. We have great leadership and that’s a huge part of our success in the recent years. The players run the show.”

SDSU avoided what could have been a disastrous start. The Jacks forced a three-and-out on Delaware’s first possession and forced a punt. Former Jackrabbit Ben Dinkel then punted the ball and it rolled about 10 yards. Jaxon Janke made the decision to try and picked it up and dropped the ball and the Blue Hens hopped on it.

The fumble only resulted in three points as the Jacks’ defense stopped Delaware on third and goal.

SDSU’s offense was finally able to take its first snap of the game with eight minutes to play in the first quarter. It didn’t take long for the Jacks to get things going as a 51-yard run from Mark Gronowski and a 14-yard run from Isaiah Davis put SDSU on the one yard line. Davis then plunged into the end zone with 4:55 left in the first quarter and SDSU led 7-3.

The 51-yard run was the longest of the season for Gronowski and it was reminiscent of the 2021 spring season when Gronowski broke off runs like that all year. He said it was nice to be a big part of the running game once again as he finished the day with 73 yards on the ground.

“I was kind of surprised [to have that long of a run], to be honest. Running the ball, I haven’t really run the ball as much this year and it was really great to get back into the running game a bit and get some of those carries. It was really exciting to see how big of a hole the lineman created for me [on that run],” Gronowski said.

The Jacks got the ball back right away and a heavy dose of the run game led to another touchdown. Davis capped off the drive with another touchdown, this one from 10 yards out, and the Jacks took a 14-3 lead with 12:57 left in the first half.

Davis finished the day with 104 yards on 14 carries. Stiegelmeier said it was nice to see Davis’ hard work pay off with a big game in the playoffs.

“If there’s a guy that, I mentioned guys taking care of their bodies, if there’s a picture of [taking care of you body] or a definition of that, it’s Isaiah Davis. And it’s all the time. It’s sleep. As a true freshman he would go to the wellness center and do extra workouts. He’s a guy where football is very important to [him] and he’s worked very hard to get to where he is, and again, he’s a good football player,” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU scored one more touchdown before the end of the half. Gronowski had a pair of passes to the Janke twins set up this one. Gronowski first found Jaxon Janke for 14 yards and then found Jadon Janke for a 34-yard gain to set up first and goal. Gronowski then scored on a one-yard run and it was 21-3.

Delaware would add a field goal as time expired to make it 21-6 at halftime.

SDSU continued to dominate in the second half as its first drive of the second half was 14 plays for 58 yards and took up seven minutes and 33 seconds. Amar Johnson capped off the drive with a two-yard touchdown to make it 28-6 with 7:23 left in the third. SDSU then forced a three and out and the snap on the punt went over Dinkel’s head and went into the end zone. Matthew Durrance fell on it for SDSU and that put the Jacks up 35-6 with 5:15 left in the third.

The Jacks would score one more time before the third quarter ended. This time it was a passing touchdown as Gronowski found Jaxon Janke from four yards out to make it 42-6 with 30 seconds left in the quarter.

The game ended before the clock struck zero’s after Delaware quarterback Ryan O’Connor took a shot to the head and had to be carted off on a stretcher with just over a minute to play. The two school’s athletic director’s and coaches then decided to call the game.

Stiegelmeier opened his postgame press conference with his thoughts and prayers to O’Connor and the Delaware program.

“We sure hope and pray that that young man is going to be 100%. He seemed to calm down at the end, which I think everybody felt good about. … It looked really serious at the start. I’m not a medical person, but it didn’t look good and by the looks of the people caring for him, it didn’t look good. By the end of it his eyes were open and I said a couple things to him and he acknowledged me,” Stiegelmeier said.

The Blue Hens twitter account tweeted after the game that O’Connor was “responsive and moving all of his extremities upon leaving the field and is being examined further.”

SDSU had 222 rushing yards on the day. It was the second highest total on the ground for the Jacks this season and SDSU offensive lineman Mason McCormick said that running the ball was the Jacks game plan coming into the game.

“[Delaware] had a really good pass defense and they play a 3-3 stack type look. We thought coming in that [running the ball was something we could do. They have some good athletes out there and they’re a really good football team, but [we were able to run the ball well on them],” McCormick said.

Gronowski was 11-for-15 with 131 yards and no interceptions. Jadon Janke had three catches for 48 yards and Jaxon Janke had four catches for 38 yards. Landon Wolfe and A.J. Coons each had one catch for 17 yards.

The SDSU defense held Delaware to 192 total yards and the Blue Hens had yards 64 rushing.

“We play so much defense, yet [defensive coordinator] Jimmy [Rodgers] and his coaches keep it really simple,” Stiegelmeier said. “… I think [Delaware’s quarterbacks] were thinking, where do I throw the ball. And then it’s really hard to run the ball against our defense. Guys are fresh and our aggressive. We’re still playing without maybe our best player in Adam Bock and we can’t wait to get him back and I know he can’t wait to get back.”

Saveion Williamson led SDSU with 11 tackles, eight them were solo. Jason Freeman had nine tackles and 1.5 tackles for a loss. Reece Winkelman had three tackles and two sacks. Caleb Sanders had four tackles and one sack.

The Jacks was coming off of back-to-back bye weeks and there was a lot of talk of whether or not SDSU would be rusty or not. SDSU certainly did not look rusty and Gronowski said the Jacks really benefited from having that long break.

“It was great [to have those weeks off] because we got to spend time healing our bodies and work on the fine details that we were messing up on previously in some games. It was really just great to get out there and get some practices where we were just able to work on instead of game planning right away,” Gronowski said.

Stiegelmeier added that he noticed that his players looked fresh after the double bye week.

“It was noticeable [that we had two weeks off]. It was noticeable and it wasn’t just noticeable in terms of physical rest. [It was also] the mental grind of fall camp and then 11 weeks straight,” Stiegelmeier said.

SDSU will play No. 8 seeded Holy Cross next week in the quarterfinals in Brookings. The game time will be announced later tonight.

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