Jacks fall short against top-ranked Bison



South Dakota State running back Mikey Daniel (26) stiff arms a North Dakota State defender as teammate Cade Johnson looks on Saturday, Oct. 26 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium. Despite a strong rushing performance from Daniel and the rest of the backfield, the Jackrabbits fell to the Bison 23-16.

Landon Dierks and Jakob King

Saturday had all the makings of a fairy tale for the South Dakota State football program.

ESPN’s College GameDay was in town for the first time, Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium experienced its first-ever sellout and third-ranked SDSU had a chance to unseat No. 1 North Dakota State, winners of 28 consecutive games, in a battle for the Dakota Marker.

But it wasn’t to be.

NDSU proved once again it is the king of the FCS, scraping out a 23-16 win.

Tied at 16 with just under three minutes to play, the Bison faced a fourth-and-1 at their own 29-yard line. Instead of punting the ball away, NDSU head coach Matt Entz elected to go for it and watched running back Adam Cofield sprint 71 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

“I walked out to the offensive line and said ‘what do you think?’” Entz said. “All five of them looked at me and said ‘let’s do it.’ When you know your kids are locked in like that, I felt good about that.”

SDSU (6-2, 3-1 MVFC) couldn’t match the score in the waning moments, giving the Bison (8-0, 4-0 MVFC) their 29th consecutive victory, including three straight over the Jackrabbits.

Cofield’s game-winner was part of a 332-yard rushing performance for the Bison against an SDSU defense that was only allowing 104.6 rushing yards per game coming into Saturday’s contest. 

After losing starting quarterback J’Bore Gibbs to an injury in the first quarter, the Jackrabbits offense struggled with junior backup quarterback Kanin Nelson taking snaps. Nelson completed just 2-of-9 passes in his relief effort. He did run for 40 yards, but couldn’t get SDSU into the endzone.

“We just didn’t execute as well down there, we just didn’t finish,” said SDSU head coach John Stiegelmeier. “We held them out too, a couple of times, so I think part of it is how good your defense is and part of it is you just need to make plays.”

If there was one positive, it was the play of the defense, who helped out the struggling offense by shutting down the Bison for much of the opening half. The Jacks went into the break ahead 6-3, missing an opportunity to tack three more points on when a Chase Vinatieri field goal sailed wide to close the opening 30 minutes.

The game’s tide changed dramatically to start the second half.

The Bison dominated most of the third quarter, finally finding their offensive stride against an SDSU defense. Running back Ty Brooks took a handoff 59 yards for the game’s first touchdown to put the Bison ahead 10-6 midway through the third quarter and followed up with another touchdown just over two minutes later after Nelson fumbled deep in his own territory, though a two-point conversion attempt left the Bison on 16 points.

The Jacks were able to trim the deficit to 16-9 in the closing minute of the third quarter and SDSU’s defense forced a Bison punt on the ensuing possession. It was then that Stiegelmeier made the decision to insert true freshman Keaton Heide at quarterback.

“We felt like we needed to pass more, and we felt like (Heide) was more suited for the passing game,” Stiegelmeier said of the decision to replace Nelson with Heide. “Even though he’s a true freshman, he’s proven that in practice, so that was the scenario.”

The move breathed life into the Jackrabbit offense. Heide, aided by the running of Pierre Strong Jr. and Mikey Daniel, led a 9-play, 80-yard march capped by the young quarterback finding the endzone with his legs from three yards out. 

Vinatieri added the extra point to tie the game at 16, sending the record crowd of 19,371 fans into a frenzy.

“You can only prepare yourself for the upcoming task at hand week in and week out,” Heide said. “We knew J’Bore had been injured earlier in the season and had taken some big hits last week, but you can never really prepare for a player to go down. The next guy just has to step up when his name is called.”

SDSU got the ball back in Bison territory after intercepting a pass on a trick play, but wasted a chance to take the lead when Heide threw an interception of his own three plays later.

“It’s huge,” said Stiegelmeier. “We talk about in the locker room. We want poise, and to rejoice in those situations rather than tighten up. At this point in the season, we can’t be young. We have to be winners and we have to be ready for those moments.”

The Bison responded with the game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-1. Senior linebacker Christian Rozeboom says the play call to run outside the tackles in the short-yardage situation caught the defense off guard.

“We just have to make plays. I’ll be honest, I thought it was going to be something up the gut,” Rozeboom said. “But it wasn’t so, you gotta live and learn and just go from there.”

While the loss hurts, Rozeboom vows that it will not get in the way of their overall goal. 

“Obviously we can’t drop off just because of one loss,” Rozeboom said. “We won’t, I promise you that. These guys know that in the upcoming weeks we just have to take care of business. We can’t let one loss dwindle our season, and I know we won’t.”

The Jacks are back in action at 2 p.m. next Saturday when they visit Missouri State.