Jacks crush Lions in home opener

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor (He/Him)

For the first time in almost two years, a full-capacity crowd was back at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on Saturday.

The fans in attendance for South Dakota State University’s home opener were ready to be back in full swing, watching their football team dominate with a 52-7 win against Lindenwood.

The total fan attendance for the game was 15,162, despite playing a Division II program. This was the eighth highest in the stadium’s history, since opening in 2016.

With the win, SDSU now improves to a 21-4 record in home-opening games under head coach John Stiegelmeier, including 5-0 at Dykhouse stadium.

The Jackrabbits have been a dominant team at home, and Stiegelmeier attributes that to the amount of energy and support fans bring to every game.

“We had an unbelievable crowd (Saturday),” Stiegelmeier said. “I mean, that energizes you, and we made some big plays early that energized them.”

Last Spring saw fan attendance limited, and many other policies and protocols were implemented because of COVID-19 concerns.

With the return of fall football and full-capacity crowds, students were excited to get back to enjoying themselves and supporting their Jackrabbits. And in a game as lopsided as this one was, fans seemed to love every minute of it.

“The environment,” said second-year student Matt Girard when asked what he likes most about football games. “Having a whole fan base is great and everyone here is pretty supportive.”

SDSU students have always been a very supportive fan base. But football games provide more than just the team. They allow students to have fun, socialize and be a part of a college tradition.

First-year student Ben Wallraff, attending his first SDSU game, was doing what many others do at Jackrabbit games: hanging out with friends and enjoying the game.

“The anticipation for (Saturday); just hanging out all day and being here,” he said.

And the Jacks’ performance on the field provided a lot of excitement.

On the team’s opening possession, quarterback Chris Oladokun connected with receiver Jaxon Janke for 55 yards on the team’s first play from scrimmage before running back Pierre Strong Jr. punched it in the end zone two plays later.

The Jacks scored touchdowns in its first five possessions, and by halftime, they had gained over 400 yards of total offense, and the score was 45-0.

Overall, the Jackrabbits outgained Lindenwood in total yards 560-196, including outrushing the Lions 330-84.

Oladokun, making his first home start for SDSU, was 12-14 for 171 yards and threw four touchdowns before the starters left the game late in the second quarter. Second and third string players got some valuable reps in the rest of the night.

The Jackrabbit rushing attack was also on full display. Pierre Strong Jr. had another impressive showing, finishing with 110 rushing yards on seven carries and a touchdown. Strong also surpassed 3,000 rushing yards for his college career.

Freshman running back Amar Johnson replaced Strong in the second quarter and added 15 attempts for 103 yards and a touchdown.

Lindenwood looked overmatched all night. The Jackrabbit defense nearly posted a shutout and forced an interception and three sacks.

But the win didn’t come without a price. Running back Isaiah Davis suffered a shoulder injury early and did not return. He is expected to be out for up to eight weeks. This, along with wide receiver Landon Wolff suffering a season-ending injury last week, makes back-to-back games where the Jacks have lost key offensive weapons.

This week, the Jackrabbits have a bye before traveling to Terre Haute to take on Indiana State Saturday, Sept. 25 at noon.

“As a football program, it’s a whole different feeling when you walk out into your home stadium, and it’s rocking, it’s full, and the student section ends up being full,” Stiegelmeier said. “That’s a whole different feeling than having it half full in areas.”