Jacks face UND to end regular season

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor

It’s the final game of the regular season for the South Dakota State Jackrabbits as they return home to Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium Saturday to take on North Dakota.

The No. 12 Jackrabbits (7-3, 4-3 Missouri Valley Football Conference) look to rebound from their heartbreaking loss to South Dakota last week and gain momentum heading into the FCS playoffs.

The last time these two teams met was in the spring season when UND handed the Jacks a 28-17 loss, SDSU’s only loss of the regular season last year.

About South Dakota State

Last week, the Jackrabbits had their game against South Dakota all but won, but a 57-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass by USD as time expired gave the Jacks a devastating 23-20 loss.

This was SDSU’s first loss away from home this season, previously going 4-0 on the road and beating their opponents by an average of 30 points a game.

The Jackrabbits have the fifth highest-scoring offense in the FCS, averaging 38.6 points per game. SDSU also has a top-15 defense in the nation, holding opponents to under 18 points per game.

But last week against the Coyotes, the Jackrabbit defense struggled, giving up 442 yards of total offense.

Still, the Jackrabbits are one of the most dangerous teams in the country, and a win against a newfound rival could give them the momentum they need heading into the postseason.

“Win or lose, we’ve preached during the game to play in the present,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier. I think our guys are trained to do that. Not that the game didn’t mean a ton, and it was very disappointing, but we’ve got to move on, and our guys have done that.”

About North Dakota

It’s been an up-and-down season for North Dakota (5-5, 3-4).

The Fighting Hawks started their second season in the MVFC ranked eighth in the preseason FCS rankings. But they have struggled to stay consistent all season.

After winning two of their first three nonconference games, the Fighting Hawks began conference play with a 16-10 loss to North Dakota State. They followed that up with a 20-13 loss to USD in Vermillion and a 31-28 loss to Southern Illinois.

UND ended its three-game losing streak with a 34-10 win against Western Illinois. But they then ran into Missouri State the next week and lost to the Grizzlies 32-28.

The Fighting Hawks have played teams close all season; All of their conference losses have been within one possession. But they are currently riding a two-game winning streak, and a win against SDSU could end their season on a positive note.

 “Really pleased with the win over Illinois State. It was a hard-nosed, tough-fought game,” UND coach Bubba Schweigert said. “Now we look forward to playing a really good team. This will be a real challenge for our program and we’re looking forward to it.”

Key Players for SDSU

It wasn’t the usual dominant offense performance for the Jackrabbits last week, but it was almost enough to win.

Chris Oladokun was 22-30 for 220 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions last week. Oladokun has 2,211 yards, 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions for the season.

Pierre Strong Jr. also didn’t have his best game against the Coyotes, but he did manage to finish with 103 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries. Strong is still the second-leading rusher in the FCS with 1,245 yards.

Jaxon Janke amassed 100 yards receiving last week. He leads the team in receiving yards with 773 and has two touchdowns. His brother Jadon leads the team with six receiving touchdowns.

On defense, Adam Bock continues to be the Jacks’ best player. He easily leads the team in tackles with 89, including 15 against USD. DyShawn Gales got his first interception of the season last week.

Key Players for UND

The Fighting Hawks have had a pretty balanced offensive attack this season.

Quarterback Tommy Schuster is 215 of 325 passing for 2,275 yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. The Fighting Hawks also have a good group of receivers. Three of their receivers have over 300 yards this season.

Bo Belquist is UND’s best receiver, with 47 receptions for 473 yards and five touchdowns. Brock Boltmann has also had a good season. He has 33 receptions for 337 touchdowns and four scores.

Otis Weah has anchored the UND rushing attack throughout the season. He has 755 rushing yards on 143 carries and eight touchdowns.

Linebacker Devon Krzanowski is their leading tackler for the Fighting Hawk defense with 62. Noah Larson has 59 tackles this season and a fumble recovery. Defensive back Evan Holm leads the team in interceptions with two.