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


South Dakota State wins it’s second championship in as many years
Zoey Schentzel
Jackrabbit Head Coach Jimmy Rogers lifts the national championship trophy after beating Montana 23-3 in the FCS title game at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas on Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. Rogers just finished his first year at SDSU with an undefeated season.

Exactly 364 days ago, the Jacks won their first FCS national championship. Nearly one year later the Jacks are back atop the mountain top as the best team in the Football Championship Subdivision.

In front of a crowd of 19,512, the Jackrabbits cap off an undefeated season with a 23-3 victory over a team they’ve never beaten before.

It wasn’t the cleanest game South Dakota State has played this season, but it was still enough to take down the No. 2 seed Montana on the biggest stage.

First-year head coach Jimmy Rogers was glad he could send off one of the greatest senior classes to ever play for the Jackrabbits on the right note.

“Garret Greenfield, Mason McCormick, Isaiah Davis, there’s a handful, Jason Freeman. I coached a lot of these guys in the linebacker room that we’re going to miss,” coach Rogers said. “That’s probably the hardest thing for me is saying goodbye to people and I’m just glad we didn’t let them down and we did what we said that we would do.”

The Griz won the coin toss and deferred to the second, giving the Jacks the first opportunity to put points on the board.

It was a very slow-paced first quarter as both teams had just one possession in the first 15 minutes of play.

The Jacks got things started with an 11-play, 75-yard drive that took over eight minutes, ending with a 6-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Davis.

Montana would respond well as they too had a long drive, but after quarterback Clifton McDowell took a carry to the one-yard line, The Jacks would get a huge stop on fourth down. Linebacker Adam Bock would sniff out the jet sweep and stop Griz from reaching the endzone.

“Jason [Freeman] did a good job setting the edge there and I knew I had the next fit after that,” Bock said on the fourth down stop on the goal line. “I’ve been on the wrong side of too many of those, it was just huge to come up with that in a big-time game.”

Heading into the second quarter, it felt like we might see another Jackrabbit route, but quarterback Mark Gronowski would make a huge mistake on a pass to receiver Jadon Janke, with cornerback Corbin Walker intercepting the pass.

The interception would lead to Montana’s first points of the ballgame, a 30-yard field goal by kicker Nico Ramos.

The top-ranked teams would trade blows to end the first half, including a muffed punt that was deflected off a Jackrabbit defender and recovered by Montana.

But South Dakota State was able to weather the storm and go into halftime with the lead, as McDowell’s pass was intercepted at the buzzer by defensive back Dalys Beanum.

The Jacks were able to move the ball well, gaining 175 first-half yards to the Griz 140, but Montana was in control of the clock and the turnover battle, holding the ball for over 17 minutes and forcing two SDSU turnovers.

“We made some uncommon errors, the punt that hit Matthew Durrance, when you’re trying to finish a play those things will happen,” coach Rogers said. “Did we want that to happen? No, but we were able to respond, [Gronowski] threw an interception, we responded.”

Coming out of the halftime break with Griz receiving the ball, Montana had an opportunity to put the pressure back on the Jackrabbits. But it was the Jackrabbits who would put the pressure on instead.

McDowell threw a completion to receiver Aaron Fontes, but a hustle play downfield resulting in a fumble by defensive lineman Brian Williams would give the ball back to the Jacks.

After trading punts, the Jacks would score for the first time since the seven-minute mark of the opening quarter. A 34-yard catch and run by tight end Zach Heins would set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Gronowski.

Gronowski, who was selected for the Walter Payton Award and Most Outstanding Player selection this weekend, finished 13-21 passing for 175 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Gronowski also added 62 yards and a touchdown on the ground in just eight carries.

Jackrabbit Quarterback talks with Head Coach Jimmy Rogers while holding his Most Outstanding Player award after winning his second consecutive national championship. (Zoey Schentzel)

Following the touchdown, the Jacks defense would start to lock the Griz offense down. A three-and-out by Montana would precede another touchdown drive for the Jackrabbits.

A 13-yard completion to Jaxon Janke followed by an 18-yard carry by Davis would set up Gronowski’s first and only touchdown pass of the game, a 23-yarder to receiver Jadon Janke.

“He’s done such a great job making plays for us all year, Jadon is such a great player for us,” Gronowski said. “I knew he was going to be in man coverage, one-on-one, and we’ll take our guys against any guys in the country.”

One final turnover from the Griz, a strip sack by defensive lineman Cade Terveer recovered by fellow lineman Ryan Van Marel would set up another field goal for Dustman with under a minute to go in the third quarter.

But the inability to move the ball in the fourth quarter would make the mountain too steep for the Grizzlies to climb.

The Jackrabbits finish the year unbeaten and will ride into the 2024-25 season with a 29-game winning streak, the third longest in FCS history.

The Jacks outgained the Griz 372-273 for the ballgame, including 197 yards on the ground. The Yellow and Blue almost doubled Montana in yards per play, averaging 6.8 per in the contest.

Gronowski joins North Dakota State quarterbacks Brock Jensen and Carson Wentz as the only players to have won Most Outstanding Player awards in consecutive years.

Davis ran the ball 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown, and Amar Johnson had nine carries for 50 yards as well.

Jadon Janke was the leader in catches with five for 55 yards and a touchdown, his brother Jaxon added four receptions for 66 yards, and Heins caught two passes for 41 yards.

On the defense, it was Adam Bock who led the team in tackles with 11, seven of which were solo tackles. Linebacker Jason Freeman had nine, defensive back Colby Huerter had seven, and safety Tucker Large added six with a tackle for loss and two pass breakups.

The Jacks were able to pressure McDowell in the second half, racking up five sacks. Defensive ends Quinton Hicks and Cade Terveer combined for three, linebacker Isaiah Stalbird had one and defensive tackle Aaron Wolfcale-Holsten had one as well.

Beanum would record the lone interception for the Jackrabbit defense.

For Montana, McDowell finished 22-39 for 165 yards and an interception, while also adding 16 yards on the ground.

Receiver Aaron Fontes was the top target for the Griz, racking up seven passes for 76 yards. Nick Ostmo caught five passes for 43 yards and Eli Gillman caught five for 31 as well.

No Montana rusher eclipsed 20 rushing yards, as Gillman finished with 18, Ostmo with 18, McDowell with 16 and Xavier Harris with 15.

“I feel like we just did what we’ve been doing all season,” Bock said on the Jacks’ ability to stop the run. “Our defensive line is a special group and they make everything clear for us at the linebacker position and we can just play off of them when they make everything so clean.”

Linebacker Braxton Hill led the Griz in tackles with 12, including a sack and a tackle for loss. Safety Ryder Meyer finished right behind Hill with seven and defensive tackle Alex Gubner was third with six. Walker recorded the only interception for the Griz in the game.

The 2023-24 South Dakota State Jackrabbits will go down as one of the best teams in FCS history, led by one of the best defensive performances in the playoffs. The defense gave up just 15 points in four playoff games, averaging less than four points per contest.

“146 points scored to 15,” coach Rogers on the Jackrabbits’ playoff success. “This is the best defense in FCS history and I’m proud of that, proud of this football team, proud to go back-to-back, proud to do it with these guys.”

While it’s up for argument where this team sits in the category of best FCS team ever, Coach Rogers isn’t too worried about where this team stacks up against the rest.

“I’m not overly concerned about where it stands, “coach Rogers said. “I know this is the best team that South Dakota State football has ever had and that’s what we concern ourselves about. Where does it stand in history? I’m not sure.”

The defense this season allowed just 9.27 points per game, the best in the FCS since 2003 when Monmouth let up only 8.5 points per game.

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