South Dakota State’s ‘605 hogs’ pave the way in national title game

The Jackrabbit offensive line has dominated defenses throughout this season, capped off by its best performance in Frisco.


Marshall Minihan

South Dakota State’s Mason McCormick (60) and Garret Greenfield (74) prepare to lead the Jackrabbits onto the field at Toyota Stadium in the FCS national championship game Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas.

Skyler Jackson, Co-Sports Editor (He/Him)

Few teams have a more experienced offensive line than South Dakota State.

The “605 hogs,” which currently consists of the starting five of left tackle Garret Greenfield, left guard Mason McCormick, center Gus Miller, right guard Evan Beerntsen, and right tackle John O’Brien, have barely missed a snap throughout this season.

“Those guys have played 98% of our reps this year. They’re warriors,” coach John Stiegelmeier said. “They take pride in taking care of our offensive skill, taking care of Mark (Gronowski) and it’s one of the closest groups I’ve ever been around.”

Before those starting five took the field at Toyota Stadium for the FCS championship game Jan. 8 in Frisco, Texas, they knew it was important to withstand NDSU’s defensive line.

“I would say that they are a very good defensive line,” McCormick said. “They play really hard and that’s the way the game is supposed to be played.”

The group just put together its most dominant performance of the season to help lead the Jackrabbits to their first national championship.

They won the battle up front from the start, clearing the way for 522 yards of total offense, 299 of them coming on the ground, and allowing only one sack of Gronowski, who gave tremendous credit to the offensive line as the reason why SDSU won.

“I give it all to them,” Gronowski said. “They don’t get enough credit for what they do for us. If we don’t have a great O-line, a great ‘605 hogs’ group, we don’t go anywhere, and this championship is on them.”

The Jacks dominating the battle in the trenches is nothing new, they’ve been doing it all season. After dealing with underperformance and injuries early in the season, McCormick said the O-line started to click early on in SDSU’s conference schedule.

“I know from my standpoint, starting back in 2019, I was a young buck, and everything looks pretty fast, you’re a little intimidated and not knowing what’s going on,” the 6-foot-4, 305-pound senior said. “Seeing these guys get a little confidence and swagger to them has been really fun.”

From that point forward, the Jackrabbits, and the offensive line, kept plowing through their opponents.

A highlight for the offensive line this season came in the Dakota Marker game, the first matchup between the Jacks and NDSU this season.

Despite early struggles from the O-line and the Jacks trailing in the first half, they fought back, and the offensive line helped the team end up with over 200 rushing yards, which speaks to the mentality of the “605 hogs.”

“I think it is something that has been instilled for a long time,” McCormick said. “I think of it as just playing as hard as you can and mistakes are going to happen, that’s just the game. So just keep your head down and keep pushing.”

The offensive line continued to punish defenses for the rest of the season. They claimed two first-team spots on the Associated Press All-American team with McCormick and Greenfield.

The success of the offensive line continued to be pivotal throughout SDSU’s dominant playoff run. Against Delaware in the first round, the Jacks ran for 222 yards, and against Holy Cross in the quarterfinals, they ran for 216 yards.

SDSU then met Montana State, the team that ended their season a year ago in the semifinals. The O-line avenged their loss by paving the way for 281 rushing yards in a 39-18 win to send the Jacks back to Frisco.

The reason why the unit has been so dominant this season could be because of how close they are off the field.

“I would argue that this is probably the closest our offensive line has ever been,” McCormick said. “We’re honestly a bunch of best friends and there’s really no bickering back and forth when people mess up. Everybody’s got confidence in each other and that definitely allows for a more relaxed approach.”

The Jackrabbits averaged 34.2 points per game and 384.5 yards per game this year, both ranked in the top 50 in the FCS. Gronowski has been sacked only 19 times this season, the 16th fewest in the nation.

“There’s no better feeling in the world because it gives me so much time and I can feel comfortable back there,” Gronowski said. “I don’t have to be back there scrambling; I can stay in the pocket and trust those guys.”

Now the “605 hogs” capped off all the experience they’ve had together with a national title.

“They play hard every single time they’re out there and they just want to bury guys which is fun for me,” Gronowski said. “They always give me enough time and let our skill guys look good. They don’t always get all the limelight but man, those guys are good.”