Jacks upset NDSU for Dakota Marker and Valley title


Skyler Jackson, Sports Reporter (He/him)

A share of the Missouri Valley Conference title and the Dakota Marker were on the line Saturday when the South Dakota State Jackrabbits defeated North Dakota State 27-17 in Fargo, North Dakota.

The fourth-ranked Jackrabbits broke No. 2 NDSU’s 32-home-game winning streak, securing an automatic bid to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs and a top-2 seed.

The Jacks got it done with a dominant rushing attack, along with a defense that was able to stop the run. Claiming the Dakota Marker for the first time since 2017 was a big deal to the Jackrabbit players.

“2018, we played them close in the regular season, then losing in the playoffs really hurt,” senior linebacker Logan Backhaus said. “Ever since then, it’s kind of lit a fire under our butts. To come back here and take what they took from us. Man, it feels good to get that rock.”

This was the Jacks’ first game action since March 20, when they beat Southern Illinois, and after nearly a month away from the field, coach John Stiegelmeier was concerned about rust heading into the game.

But the time away didn’t seem to hurt the Jackrabbits. It allowed the team to prepare longer for the Bison, and players were even more excited and ready to play again.

“When the ball is snapped, guys have got to do their job, and they did it today,” Stiegelmeier said. “We did have some mix-ups where they got some plays, but I thought, for the most part, we played Jackrabbit football.”

It was another big day for the Jackrabbit running game, totaling 305 yards on the ground. Quarterback Mark Gronowski ran for 126 yards to add to his 146 passing yards on 10-14 completions and a touchdown. Pierre Strong Jr. ran for 95 yards and a touchdown, while Isaiah Davis totaled 84 yards and a score.

Overall, it was an efficient day for SDSU’s offense as they did not commit a single turnover. Gronowski credits the time off as a reason for the team’s performance.

“I think the time off was actually great for us,” Gronowski said. “It gave us a chance to be healthy, have our guys get some rest and improve on the things that we’ve had mistakes on throughout our games.”

It was also yet another successful defensive performance from the Jackrabbits, holding the No. 1 rushing attack in the Missouri Valley to under 100 yards. Adam Bock led the team with a career-high 13 tackles, with Preston Tatzlaff adding seven. Cornerback Michael Griffin secured the win with an interception in the final minute of the game.

For the Bison, the loss was a tough one. They will now have to rely on an at-large bid to get into the postseason.

Offensively, NDSU quarterback Cam Miller finished with 149 yards passing on 9-16. Hunter Luepke was their leading rusher with 43 yards on 14 attempts. Defensively, James Kaczor led with 10 tackles.

With the regular season coming to a close, SDSU (5-1) now looks ahead to the postseason, clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed. They will host Holy Cross at 2 p.m. next Saturday. The Bison (6-2) received an at-large bid and will host Eastern Washington at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.