South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

South Dakota State University's Independent Student-Run Newspaper Since 1885

The Collegian

Second half surge from Isaiah Davis sends the Jacks to the Semifinals

Dave Eggen/Inertia
BROOKINGS, SD – December 9: Matthew Durrance #23 of the South Dakota State Jackrabbits blocks a punt from Nathan Fondacaro #96 of the Villanova Wildcats at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium on December 9, 2023 in Brookings, South Dakota.

Over 10,000 fans corralled into Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium this morning to witness an impressive 192 yard game from Isiah Davis as the Jacks won 23-12 over No. Eight Villanova in the FCS quarterfinals.

The 10,216 fans, a new playoff attendance record, braved the 29-degree weather and the 30 mph winds to watch the Jacks battle the Wildcats in their second playoff matchup this season.

“We battled,” said head coach Jimmy Rogers. “That was a tough game, tough elements to play it. There is not much we can do in that type of weather so we’re lucky to have the guys we have up front.”

South Dakota State started the day off slow with only one touchdown scored in the first half. However, that was not thanks to the offense.

After Villanova failed to convert on a third down, the Jackrabbit special teams made their way on the field with Tucker Large deep to return.

Only, the ball never made it to the dangerous return man. Backup safety Matthew Durrance not only blocked the punt, but a perfect bounce from the ball brought it directly into his hands. The Florida native then ran the ball back 55 yards for the score.

The special teams score wasn’t the first points on the board. With the wind helping him out, kicker Hunter Dustman put the first points of the game on the board with a 42-yard field goal, his only field goal of the day.

The Wildcats answered back after Dustman’s field goal with a touchdown to take a 6-3 lead before the blocked punt. After marching nearly 20 yards, Villanova tailback Jalen Jackson took one in from 25 yards out.

A missed extra point halted the Wildcats from making their lead to four points. Jackson finished the game with 67 yards on the ground with one touchdown.

Going into halftime, the Jacks had only 48 yards on the ground and 16 yards passing. Their first drive out of halftime didn’t go well either. As SDSU was moving the ball down the field, tight end Zach Heins caught a pass and began to run up the field, but the ball was knocked out by Villanova’s Brendan Bell and was recovered by the Wildcats.

After forcing a three and out. The Jackrabbits once again gained possession of the football.

Something had to change. That something was Davis.

Davis found his footing in the third quarter with 26 yards on SDSU’s second drive of the half. But it was Jaxon Janke who capped the drive off with a 20-yard reception from Mark Gronowski to put the first offensive touchdown for the Jacks on the board.

South Dakota State running back, Isaiah Davis, runs with the football during a game at Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium in Brookings, S.D. on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 (Zoey Schentzel)

Gronowski finished the game with 101 yards and a score while completing 11 of his 19 throws throughout the game. Four Jackrabbits had over 20 yards in receptions on the day, Jadon Janke (21 yards on five catches), Davis (24 yards with two catches), Jaxon Janke (22 yards with two catches) and Heins (26 yards with one catch).

Villanova’s Connor Watkins led the Wildcats to South Dakota State’s 6-yard line but was unable to punch it in the endzone resulting in a Matthew Mercurio field goal from 23 yards out.

SDSU’s next drive started with a 9-yard rush from Gronowski, who ran for 39 yards on the day and Davis completed it with a 66-yard touchdown run. The senior finished with 192 rushing yards and a score on 27 carries.

“I did have 190, but [it] was a collective group effort from the o-line,” said Davis. “I go off of them and when they bring the juice, that’s when I get the juice.”

Villanova stalled on their next two drives with an interception to cornerback Dayls Beanum and a three-and-out and South Dakota State sat on the ball for the final six minutes to end the game 23-12.

On Defense, Adam Bock led the Jacks with 11 total tackles with Jason Freeman snagging nine and Quinton Hicks with seven. Hicks also finished the game with a sack and one and a half tackles for loss.

Daniel Abraham was all over the field for Villanova, racking up a game-high of 12 with Jack Reichwein and Shane Hartzell bringing in nine each.

Football will be back for the final time at the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium Friday, Dec. 15 for a semifinal matchup against either No. 4 Idaho or No. 5 UAlbany. Kickoff is slated for 6 p.m. and can also be seen on ESPN2.

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About the Contributor
Marshall Minihan, Sports Editor
Sports Editor Marshall Minihan is a junior at South Dakota State University and is from Canton, South Dakota. He majors in journalism and minors in communication studies and recreation administration.

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