Football faces final opponent of regular-season play

Marshall Minihan, Sports Reporter

South Dakota State will play its final game of the regular season against the Illinois State Redbirds at 2 p.m. Nov. 12 at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium for senior night. The Jacks return home after sneaking out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, with a 31-28 win against Northern Iowa.

The Jackrabbits come into this game 9-1 on the season (8-0 MVFC). They are also ranked No. 1 in the Missouri Valley Conference and No. 1 in the FCS coaches poll.

Illinois State is 5-4 on the season and 3-3 in conference battles, coming off a close loss to Youngstown State 19-17.

This game marks the 11th matchup of the Jacks and the Redbirds with the first game dating back to 2008. Currently, the Jacks/Redbird matchup is at a 5-5 stalemate.

About South Dakota State:

SDSU is currently on a 9-game winning streak, which is tied for the longest winning streak in school history.

South Dakota State has the third-best rushing offense in the MVFC. Leading the rushing surge for the Jacks is star tailback Isaiah Davis. The Jacks have put up 1,619 rushing yards this season, with 882 of those coming from Davis. The Joplin, Missouri, native is also responsible for 9 of 22 rushing touchdowns SDSU has scored this season.

Backup Amar Johnson is sitting at 455 yards on the season with four scores. SDSU’s quarterback Mark Gronowski is ranked third on SDSU’s rush list with 154 yards, along with seven touchdowns on the ground.

Gronowski has also thrown for 1,964 yards, 17 passing touchdowns and only four interceptions in 10 games. With 257 passes, Gronowski has connected on 165 of them bringing his completion rate to 64.2%.

The double-trouble Janke twins are Gronowski’s top targets, catching just under 50% of his total completions. Jaxon Janke leads the team in receiving yards with 536 yards on the season, whereas his brother Jadon is close behind with 469 total receiving yards. Both twins have five touchdowns this season.

SDSU’s tight ends, Tucker Kraft and Zach Heins, have been putting up stellar numbers. After taking over the starting spot after Kraft’s injury, Heins has caught 25 passes for 300 yards and three touchdowns on the year. While missing six games, Kraft has worked his way back up the chart with 13 catches for 188 yards and two scores with a 57-yard play last week against UNI.

South Dakota State has allowed 740 rushing yards in the last 10 games, which is the least allowed in the MVFC. Even though he had missed the last two games, Adam Bock still leads the 2nd-ranked FCS defense in total tackles with 58. Reece Winkelman leads the team in tackles for loss for 8 for 46 yards. Following Bock closely is Jason Freeman, who has 49 tackles in 10 games.

“(Freeman) is very fast, he’s very explosive and he’s very serious about being as good as he can be,” coach John Stiegelmeier said.

Safety Cale Reeder leads SDSU with three interceptions to the team total of 14. Colby Huerter, Dalys Beanum and Dyshawn Gales join Reeder on the board with two picks each.

About Illinois State:

Ranking 7th in the MVFC, Illinois State’s offense is led by former University of Minnesota quarterback Zack Annexstad, who has thrown 258 passes and completed 162 for 1,691 yards and 11 touchdowns. Annexstad has found three receivers over 25 times each.

Daniel Sobkowicz leads the team in receiving yards with 345 yards and receiving touchdowns with three on 27 receptions. Jalen Carr has put up 296 yards this season with one score on 28 receptions, along with Tanner Taula who has 26 receptions for 284 yards and one score as well.

Wenkers Wright leads the Redbirds in rushing yards with 480 yards on the season with one touchdown on 123 carries. Backup Nigel White follows Wright with 163 yards with 50 carries. Annexstad has the most rushing touchdowns with four.

The Illinois State defense is led by linebacker Zeke Vandenburgh. The California native currently leads the team in total tackles with 73, tackles for loss at 13 and sacks with 7.5.

“They are very psychical on defense, their linebackers specifically are really good football players,” Stiegelmeier said. “They understand their defense and my job as a head coach on Sunday and Monday is to try and find an advantage in terms of their defense and you can’t get that advantage.”

Defensive backs, Franky West and Jeff Bowens, are both at two interceptions on the season. West and Bowen have a combined total of 64 tackles on the season.