Battle for ‘bragging rights’: Jacks-’Yotes meet in SD Showdown

Jakob King, Sports Reporter

In need of a win Saturday to lock in a top-eight seed and first-round bye in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, No. 5 South Dakota State makes the trip down I-29 to the University of South Dakota for the eighth edition of the South Dakota Showdown Series.

While the Showdown Series is relatively new, only coming about after both institutions made the jump to Division I and began competing in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, the in-state rivalry is almost as old as college football itself.

The two schools first met on a football field in 1889 and have met 110 times since. According to, SDSU has a narrow 54-50-7 edge over USD in the all-time series, including wins in the last 10 meetings, which dates back to 2001.

The Jackrabbits (8-3, 5-2 MVFC) enter the matchup having dominated then-fifth ranked Northern Iowa last weekend to jump back in the conversation for a top-eight seed. While this week’s game seems like it could be another easy win for SDSU on paper, Jackrabbit coach John Stiegelmeier has a different opinion.

“There’s a lot at stake for us,” Stiegelmeier said. “There’s potential for a top-eight seed and guaranteed playoffs. So for us to think that we’re going to dwell on the UNI game and forget USD would be really, really different than how we play around here.”

The Coyotes (4-7, 3-4 MVFC) have already spoiled a team’s season once this year. Two weeks ago, they blew out Youngstown State 56-21, effectively ending YSU’s chances for a playoff berth.

They are looking to ruin their in-state rivals’ chances for a first-round bye this week, and they have the talent to do so.

Led by quarterback Austin Simmons, who leads the MVFC in passing yards (2,701) and passing touchdowns (25), the Coyotes have the top-ranked passing offense in the nation. 10 different players have caught touchdowns for an offense that averages 440.2 yards and 30.8 points per game. The receiving corps is highlighted by Caleb Vander Esch, who leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Tasked with stopping the Coyotes’ high-power offense is a Jackrabbit defense that leads the MVFC in interceptions and ranks third in passing defense. Stiegelmeier called the battle between USD’s passing offense and the SDSU secondary “the matchup of the game.”

“I’m really impressed with their quarterback,” Stiegelmeier said. “He makes great decisions; he makes quick decisions. He’s also a threat to run the ball with a called run or a scramble. He’s got a great arm; he’s got a good receiving core. They’re not a 4-7 team when you look at their offense — they’re really good.”

While its offense has been among the nation’s best, USD’s defense is among the worst, allowing 457 yards and 33.5 points per game. The Coyotes scored 27 points or more in four of their seven losses this season.

Its offense might not be the only thing that gives USD a chance to play spoiler against SDSU.

Leading rusher Pierre Strong, Jr. has been ruled out for Saturday’s contest, and the Jackrabbits may be without second-leading rusher C.J. Wilson as well. Strong exited Saturday’s win over UNI with an apparent lower-body injury and did not return, and Wilson has not played since Nov. 2.

Having already been eliminated from playoff contention, this Saturday will be the last game of the Coyotes’ season — and for their seniors, the last of their college careers.

There would be no better way for them to go out then to beat their rivals on Senior Day.

“It’s not just the playoffs for us, it’s bragging rights in the state of South Dakota,” Stiegelmeier said. “For us, at this level of football, it helps in recruiting when you beat somebody that you recruit against. They look at it the same way. For them, it’s kind of their whole season. They’re a good football program, they’ll be ready.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 23, at the DakotaDome in Vermillion. Television coverage will be on MidcoSN and radio coverage will be provided by the Jackrabbits Sports Network. Additional live coverage will be available on Twitter through @CollegianSports.