Jacks beat Bison to retain Dakota Marker

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor (He/Him)

The Dakota Marker will stay in Brookings another year, as the South Dakota State Jackrabbits hand the North Dakota State Bison their first loss of the season Saturday in a 27-19 win.

18,122 fans at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium saw the No. 9 Jackrabbits (7-2, 4-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference) snap their two-game home losing streak, thanks to a Cale Reeder onside kick recovery that stopped a late surge from the No. 2 Bison (8-1, 5-1).

“It’s good medicine; we needed it big time,” SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier said of the win. “I don’t think we were thinking about the two losses at home when we took the field. But I know we were thinking about playing our best football and being aggressive, which I think we were. And consequently, we got the win.”

SDSU got the ball to kick things off and wasted no time, as running back Pierre Strong Jr. took the ball 75 yards for a score on just the second play of the game. With that run, Strong eclipsed 1,000 yards in a season for the third time in his career.

But that was just the start of what proved to be one of Strong’s greatest games. After NDSU tied the game later in the first quarter, Strong added his second touchdown of the day on a 1-yard direct snap. A Chase Norblade interception gave the Jackrabbits the ball back, and they went 80 yards in 16 plays in a drive that lasted over nine minutes.

On NDSU’s 11 yard line, the Jacks faced a fourth and one, and offensive coordinator Jason Eck decided to trick the Bison defense. Strong took a direct snap that went through quarterback Chris Oladokun’s legs and floated a pass to Tucker Kraft for the touchdown and a 21-7 lead.

“We acted like we were in a [quarterback] sneak,” Strong said. “Everybody goes down, and the tight end just popped out real late. [Wes Genant] almost rolled it back to me because everybody was tuned in on Chris. I caught it, went one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, and just let it go.”

Strong is 8-8 passing with 198 yards and five touchdowns for his career, including three this season. Not bad for a guy who hasn’t played quarterback since middle school.

“Pewee and middle school, I played quarterback, so I got a little warmup,” Strong said.

Strong added 23 carries for 156 rushing yards. Oladokun finished 13-22 for 157 yards. Jaxon Janke had 118 receiving yards on six receptions. On defense, Adam Bock had 13 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a forced fumble recovered by Malik Lofton.

It was also a special day for cornerback Don Gardner, who had missed the last five games after breaking his arm. He was initially supposed to miss eight weeks but got cleared to play only a couple hours before kickoff.

“I first spread it to the coaches and told them I could play. Then I sprang to my phone and texted my dad and my mom, ‘hey, I’m playing, make sure you watch the game tonight,'” Gardner said. “It was like a dream come true.”

By halftime, the Jackrabbits led 24-7 after Cole Frahm hit a 45-yard field goal as the first half expired. In the third quarter, Frahm hit a 33-yarder to extend SDSU’s lead to 20.

The Bison then attempted to force a comeback.

Near the end of the third quarter, NDSU quarterback Cam Miller hit RaJa Nelson for a 14-yard touchdown that made it a two-possession game.

With 4:21 left in the fourth quarter, NDSU’s defense had the Jacks backed up to their own one-yard line. As a result, they took an intentional safety instead of punting out of the back of their end zone. The lead was cut to 11.

With 1:09 left in regulation, NDSU’s Jake Reinholz hit a 33-yard field goal, and the Bison were now within one possession. They then attempted an onside kick in hopes of a miracle, but the Jacks recovered and sealed the 27-19 win.

“I expect more out of how we play,” said NDSU coach Matt Entz. “I know the kids in our locker room expect a lot more out of us as well, and we’ve got to find ways to get back. We can’t allow this game and this situation to impact next week.”

Miller finished 15-23 for 218 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. He also had 59 rushing yards on 13 carries. Christian Watson, one of the best receivers in the Missouri Valley, was held in check for most of the game. He finished with three receptions for 82 yards. The Bison barely had the edge in total yards 365 to 349.

Up next for the Jackrabbits is another big rivalry game, as they travel to Vermillion Nov. 13 to take on South Dakota, their first meeting since 2019. The Bison are also on the road next week at Youngstown State.