Jackrabbits rout Delaware, advance to quarterfinals of FCS playoffs

Marshall Minihan, Sports Reporter

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are moving on in the FCS playoffs, as they end Delaware’s season in convincing fashion, defeating the Blue Hens 42-6 Saturday at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

After having the previous two weeks off, the Jacks (11-1) shook off any potential of being rusty and were dominant from the start, as they extended their record-winning streak to 11 games.

“I think it took like a play or two, but then once we were doing that I felt like we were back rolling,” offensive lineman Mason McCormick said. “We did a lot of competing in our bye weeks and I think it really benefitted us to not have that so-called rust.”

On the first drive of the game, the SDSU defense forced the Blue Hens to punt which was then muffed by Jadon Janke, who unsuccessfully tried to grab the ball from the ground, which gave it back to Delaware. The Hens then settled for a 27-yard field goal by Brandon Ratcliffe to give them an early 3-0 lead.

on SDSU’s first offensive possession, a successful 51-yard run from quarterback Mark Gronowski helped the Jacks cover 70 yards in just five plays for their first score of the game, which was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run from Isaiah Davis. Davis finished the day with 14 carries for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

At the end of the first quarter, SDSU held a 7-3 lead. From there, it was all Jackrabbits as they outscored Delaware 35-3 the rest of the way.

Early in the second quarter, Davis again found the endzone from 10 yards out for his 12th touchdown of the season, capping off a 75-yard drive.

The Jacks would score again on the ground in the first half, this one coming on a 1-yard run from Gronowski, his ninth of the season.

Delaware would get the ball back late in the half and with two seconds left, Ratcliffe would redeem himself with a field goal from 39 yards out after missing a 40-yard attempt on his previous try. Ratcliffe ended the game going 2-of-3 on field goals and was the only Blue Hen to put points on the board. By halftime, the Jacks led 21-6.

South Dakota State would blow the game wide open in the third quarter, scoring three more touchdowns while their defense refused to let up any more points.

“In the first half, we didn’t have as many pressures as we really should’ve,” defensive tackle Caleb Sanders said. “But in the second we really picked it up and knew we were going to have to  get some sacks if we really wanted to close the game away.”

Amar Johnson was the third Jackrabbit in the game to score a rushing touchdown. Johnson scored midway through the third quarter from two yards out. He finished the game with 44 yards on nine attempts.

Then on Delaware’s next drive, a bad snap to Blue Hen punter Mathew Durrance was scooped up by SDSU’s Matthew Durrance in the endzone for another Jacks touchdown.

The final score of the game came near the end of the third quarter when Gronowski found Jaxon Janke in the back of the endzone for a score, making the final score 42-6.

But with a minute left in the game, Delaware quarterback Ryan O’Connor was knocked to the ground by SDSU backup safety Tucker Large while trying to slide down, keeping him on the ground for several minutes before being carted off the field on a stretcher. Fortunately, O’Connor was responsive and moving all extremities upon leaving the field.

From there, considering there was only a minute left and the game was out of reach, officials and coaches decided to end the game after the injury rather than finishing the final minute.

“We sure hope and pray that the young man (O’Connor) is going to be 100% and he seemed to calm down at the end which I think everyone felt good about,” Jacks coach John Stiegelmeier said.

Gronowski threw for 131 yards on 15 attempts for one touchdown, connecting with six receivers. He added 73 yards and a touchdown on the ground as well. Jaxon Janke finished the game with four catches for 38 yards and a score while his brother Jadon led the Jacks in receiving yards with 48. Both A.J. Coons and Landon Wolf finished the game with 17 yards.

Saiveon Williamson led the SDSU defense with 11 total tackles, including eight solo tackles coming. Closely behind Williamson was Jason Freeman who totaled nine tackles and Reece Winkelman added two sacks.

The defense allowed only 64 rushing yards on 37 attempts, averaging a mere 1.7 yards per carry. Not bad considering their all-American linebacker Adam Bock didn’t play due to injury.

“It’s really hard to run against our defense,” Stiegelmeier said. “Guys are fresh and aggressive and we’re still playing without our best player in Adam Bock and we can’t wait to get him back and I know he can’t wait to get back.”

For the Hens, Kyron Cumby finished with 23 yards and Quincy Watson racked up 19. O’Connor played most of the game at quarterback after started Nolan Henderson left the game early in the first quarter with a leg injury.

O’Connor completed 10 balls on 21 attempts for 104 yards. Thyrick Pitts was O’Connor’s favorites target, connecting with him ten times for 57 yards. Johnny Buchanan led the Delaware defense with 14 tackles, 2.5 of them being tackles for loss.

SDSU will return to Dykhouse Stadium Dec. 10 at 11 a.m. against 12-0 Holy Cross, the No. 8 seed coming off a 35-19 win against New Hampshire Saturday.